2 Albanians Jailed for Smuggling Illegal Immigrants to UK

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The pair were part of a organised gang that facilitated illegal immigration, supplied fake documents, and involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.

Two Albanian nationals who arranged the smuggling of illegal immigrants into the UK have been jailed, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Saturday.

Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, both from Leyton, east London, were part of a multi-national organised crime gang that used lorries and a small plane to smuggle illegal immigrants, and provided them with fake documents.

The pair were found guilty at Southwark Crown Court in March of facilitating the commission of a breach of immigration law.

They were sentenced on Saturday to three years and six months, and one year and eight months respectively.

Hilaj and Kadena’s convictions in March marked the end of an eight-year NCA investigation into the organised crime group, which was involved in facilitating illegal immigration, money laundering, drug trafficking, and the supply of counterfeit documents.

The investigation, codenamed operation Micropus, resulted in 27 arrests, 11 UK convictions, and nine convictions overseas, NCA said.

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According to the agency, Hilaj was the UK co-ordinator for the organised crime group, and Kadena acted as his assistant.

The pair were behind at least nine migrant journeys in 2016 and 2017, three of which were via a light aircraft to an aerodrome in Essex.

The NCA and its French and Belgian counterparts found Hilaj’s number in the phones of many migrants when their attempted crossings were intercepted in 2017, and phone evidence revealed that Hilaj and Kadena were fixers for the people smuggling network that charged Albanian immigrants around £10,000 each to enter the UK and establish themselves.

Hilaj was responsible for ensuring vehicles used to smuggle illegal immigrants arrived safely at a discreet location in the UK, dropped off their passengers, and returned to their scheduled legitimate route without arousing suspicion, NCA said. He was also in regular contact with illegal immigrants before and during their journey.

Kadena, primarily involved in smuggling immigrants using light aircraft, helped facilitate a flight carrying an unknown number of immigrants from Calais to Essex, and collected them from Stapleford airfield once they landed on July 9, 2017.

Another flight that was due to take off from Calais on July 17 of the same year was intercepted by French police. The UK pilot and a facilitator who had been in frequent contact with Kadena, were arrested, and later charged and convicted in France, the NCA said.

NCA officers observed Hilaj and Kadena following the interception and arrested the pair nine days later at their home addresses.

NCA officers seized false identity documents meant for illegal immigrants from Hilaj’s address. They also found messages in which he had corrected typing errors on false documents and online searches about the intercepted aircraft in France.

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

The NCA said Operation Micropus has also led to the safeguarding of over 50 immigrants, the closure of four document forgery facilities, a Proceeds of Crime confiscation of £5.46 million and an order for £939,000, and the seizure of four tonnes of cannabis and 30 kilos of cocaine.

In a statement, 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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