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People smugglers sentenced following long-running NCA investigation

People smugglers sentenced following long-running NCA investigation

Two east London criminals who arranged for migrants to be smuggled into the UK using lorries and small aircraft have been sentenced to a combined total of five years and two months.

The pair were convicted in March this year, following a major eight-year investigation by the National Crime Agency into the activities of a significant Albanian organised crime syndicate.

Albanian nationals Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, both from Leyton, were behind at least nine migrant journeys in 2016 and 2017, three of which were via a light aircraft to an aerodrome in Essex. Hilaj was the UK co-ordinator for the multi-national organised crime group.

Kreshnik Kadena (L) ; Myrteza Hilaj (R)

In 2017, NCA officers prevented and intercepted a number of crossings from Europe, working closely with French and Belgian counterparts. Many of the migrants had Hilaj’s number saved on their phones, and had either communicated directly with him or with common contacts.

Telephone evidence revealed that the pair were fixers for a criminal network that charged Albanian migrants around £10,000 each to enter the UK, and then helped those individuals establish themselves in the country. This included providing them with counterfeit passports, ID cards and fake utility bills.

Hilaj ensured that the vehicles transporting migrants arrived safely at a discreet location in the UK, dropped off their passengers and returned to their scheduled legitimate route without arousing suspicion. He was also in regular contact with illegal migrants before and during their journey.

Kadena acted as his assistant and was primarily involved in smuggling migrants using light aircraft. On 9 July 2017, he helped to facilitate a flight carrying an unknown number of migrants from Calais to Essex, travelling to Stapleford airfield himself to collect and transport the migrants from the airfield once they had landed.

A planned flight on 17 July 2017 was intercepted by French police before the aircraft took off from Marck airfield near Calais. Four migrants, including a child, were safeguarded. The UK pilot and facilitator were both arrested, the latter having been in frequent contact with Kadena. Both were charged and convicted in France.

On the same day, following the interception in France, NCA surveillance officers observed Hilaj and Kadena at a “fallout” meeting in a pub.

Hilaj and Kadena were arrested on 26 July 2017 at their home addresses by the NCA. Hilaj was found with a number of false identity documents which he planned to pass on to those he helped to smuggle in. On one of his phones, officers discovered messages in which he had corrected typing errors on false documents, as well as online searches regarding the aircraft interdiction on 17 July.

Kadena was found with a small quantity of cannabis, as well as a security fob for the gate at Stapleford Airfield.

Hilaj and Kadena were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court today to three years and six months, and one year and eight months respectively.

The result marks the end of an eight-year NCA investigation – codenamed Operation Micropus – into an Albanian organised crime group involved in facilitating illegal migration, money laundering, drug trafficking and the supply of counterfeit documents.

To date, the operation has resulted in:

27 arrests, 11 UK convictions and 9 convictions overseas
the safeguarding of over 50 migrants
the closure of four “forgery factories”
A Proceeds of Crime confiscation of £5.46M and an order for £939,000
the seizure of four tonnes of cannabis and 30 kilos of cocaine
Saju Sasikumar, NCA Senior Investigating Officer, said:

“Operation Micropus has seen us uncover and dismantle an organised crime group who not only facilitated illegal migration, but provided a complete service to those they helped into the country, ensuring they could gain work and access services illegally.

“It demonstrates our resolve to go after all those involved in people smuggling, who risk the lives of others in pursuit of profit.

“Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the National Crime Agency, and our efforts are only increasing.

“Alongside our UK and international partners, we are working tirelessly to target those involved at every stage of the route.”

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