Rekawt Kayani was one of eight members of the gang jailed in France
Iraqi-born kingpin jailed for human smuggling racket
The Iraqi-born kingpin of criminal gang that smuggled hundreds of migrants into Britain at the height of the refugee crisis has been jailed for seven years in France.
Rekawt Kayani, 36, orchestrated smuggling runs of migrants from the Middle East and Asia crammed into hidden compartments of vans and lorries for the final stage of the journey by road and ferry to the UK.
His network was to able survive and adapt to one of the biggest interceptions made by UK officials who stopped four lorries in June 2015 at the eastern English port of Harwich containing 68 migrants from Afghanistan, China and Vietnam.
The operation prompted Kayani to lie low back in Iraq for several months before switching routes from the Netherlands to France. That route was compromised when seven migrants were found hidden inside a secret compartment of a van at the southern port of Newhaven in January 2016.
Kayani – who arrived to Britain as an asylum seeker and secured British citizenship in 2011 - lived modestly at a house in Derby, central England, where he was arrested four months after the Newhaven bust as part of a joint operation with French police.
He was sent to Lille, northern France, to stand trial under a fast-track arrest and extradition programme that will disappear in the event of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal in place. Kayani was convicted with seven other members of the gang and received the longest jail sentence of the group. He was also fined 100,000 euros. (Dh431,000)
Mick Pope, of the UK’s National Crime Agency, said: “Gangs involved in organised immigration crime treat migrants as nothing more than a commodity they can profit out of.
“Individuals found as part of this investigation had to endure horrendous conditions, crammed inside small compartments or locked in the back of lorries for hours on end.”
The jailing of Kayani is the latest major success of the year for pan-European operations targeting major players in the people smuggling business.
A Greek court jailed Palestinian Jamal Owda for 13 years in March for his role in smuggling about 100 Syrians every day from Turkey into Greece and then further into Western Europe.
Owda was arrested at an asylum seekers’ hostel in the north west English city of Liverpool and extradited to Greece to stand trial. Police there believe the gang could have earned nearly 10 million euros since 2013.