x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Trafficking ring smashed

Police have thwarted an international crime ring they say used UAE airports to smuggle people from Asia into Europe.

ABU DHABI // Police have thwarted an international crime ring they say used UAE airports to smuggle people from Asia into Europe. The operation, which spanned several continents, allegedly took advantage of loopholes in security systems and passenger transfer procedures used by several European airlines to move people from Asia to Europe via airports in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. On Sept 22, officers acting on a tip-off detained two people on a flight that had landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport before they could disembark.

They confessed under questioning that they had each paid Dh40,000 (US$10,890) to be smuggled out of an unspecified Asian country to the Netherlands, and provided police with details on the operation that are believed to have led to several more arrests, some in other countries. According to police, the Asians met the smugglers in a neighbouring GCC country "to get instructions on how the operation would work".

They then boarded a flight destined for Europe with a stopover in Abu Dhabi that is believed to have had two "ringers" on board with European passports. "On Sept 22, two passengers aboard a flight operated by a European airline planned to change seats with other passengers with European passports after landing at Abu Dhabi airport," police said in a statement. Once the plane landed in the UAE capital, the Asians were to move to the seats of passengers who were destined for Europe.

The European accomplices would then disembark and the passengers being smuggled would either stay on the flight or enter the Abu Dhabi transit hall without going through immigration, then continue on the same flight to their European destination. People who are smuggled out of some Asian countries claim asylum upon arrival at EU airports so they will not be turned away by customs officials. Police later arrested a Briton suspected of being one of those who switched seats with one of the Asians on the flight. The man, identified only as Jadip SB, was arrested on his way to Sharjah International Airport, apparently on his way out of the country.

Police said he had a three-day booking at a local luxury hotel that is believed to have been paid for by the gang. They allege that he helped smuggle several individuals into Europe for cash over the past year through the UAE, as well as through other airports in the region. Also based on the confessions of the Asians being smuggled, police in an unidentified country neighbouring the UAE are believed to have arrested two of the gang's organisers - two Asian men identified as Chaudery MA and Iftikhar AA.

They are accused of co-ordinating with accomplices in Europe and Asia to find people who would pay to be smuggled into Europe. Chaudery MA is alleged to have personally collected the Dh40,000 from the Asians in the neighbouring country. Under questioning they provided authorities with details about the identities of several other gang members in Asia and Europe. "None were in fact here in the UAE, but rather were organising their operations from afar, unaware of our watchful eyes, or that we were monitoring their moves in co-operation with Arab and international authorities," said Major Abdulrahman al Saqqaf, of the criminal investigation division of the police at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Major Saqqaf added that people being smuggled were sometimes dangerous and had criminal records. He said police had been looking for similar loopholes that could be taken advantage of by criminals, and warned travellers to report any suspicious activity to authorities. Following the arrests, airlines operating in UAE airports have introduced additional security measures. relass@thenational.ae