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People smuggling ‘ringleader’ arrested in joint UK-Belgian investigation

The alleged ringleader of an organised crime group thought to be behind attempts to smuggle migrants into the UK has been arrested by National Crime Agency.

Sudanese national Abdulrahman Omer Saleh, 29, appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court recently (Wednesday 21 November), after a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was issued by Belgian authorities.

The arrest was part of a joint UK-Belgian investigation into a Sudanese and Eritrean crime group believed to be smuggling migrants into the UK, often using refrigerated lorries.

Prosecutors in Belgium believe Saleh, has been involved in at least 18 smuggling operations to date whereby the migrants pay the crime group between 500 and 2,500 euros per person to enter the UK illegally.

The migrants would be instructed to take a train from Brussels to the town of Jemelle and then walk 15 kilometres to the E411 motorway, where they would be collected by trucks and transported to the UK via the Channel ports.

Saleh has been in custody following his arrest on 13 November in Sheffield by NCA officers from Project Invigor – the NCA-led Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce. Enquiries revealed he had entered the UK illegally in August 2018.

Saleh was remanded in custody. He will next appear via video link on 19 December before a full extradition hearing on 21 December at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Chris Hogben, NCA lead for Project Invigor, yesterday said:

“Organised criminals involved in people smuggling treat humans as just another commodity they can make money out of, with little or no regard for their safety.

“The criminal network in this case demonstrated that by making migrants walk along a motorway before travelling hundreds of miles in freezing refrigerated lorries.

“Through our close working with the Belgian Federal Police and prosecutors, Saleh will now face the face the courts in Belgium.”


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