An Iranian who applied for asylum in Britain will stand trial in Belgium today on charges of heading a people-smuggling ring that helped smuggle thousands of people across the English Channel.
Hewa Rahimpur, 30, is alleged to have been a “leader” of a criminal gang that procured small boats from Turkey and arranged for them to be stored in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands before using them to transport migrants across the Channel.
The defendant, who lived in Ilford, was arrested in May last year at the start of a Europe-wide police operation that led to the confiscation of 135 boats, 1,200 life jackets and thousands of euros in cash, in addition to 40 arrests.
Rahimpur is one of 21 now facing trial in Bruges for alleged links to the gang, with the other 20 registered as living in Germany.
The court will hear that Rahimpur worked from Britain to organize the logistics of the deal, procuring ships and arranging his client meetings in France.
Hewa Rahimpur (left), originally from Iran but now living in Ilford, was arrested in an NCA operation in May 2022 in Wanstead Park, east London.
A 2022 search of a farm near Osnabruck, Germany, where more than 60 boats and 900 life jackets along with outboard motors were recovered, linked to a large-scale human trafficking operation.
Rahimpur came to Britain in 2016 and applied for asylum as an Iranian Kurd fleeing persecution.
He was given permission to stay in 2020 and set up a barbershop, before moving to a food kiosk in east London a year later.
He was arrested in May 2022 by the National Crime Agency police and has been accused of being “a leader” of the criminal organization.
Last year, the decision was made that he would be extradited to Belgium to face charges of involvement in crimes of “systematic human trafficking” using small boats.
The indictment against all of the defendants claims they smuggled children and adults from France into Britain, taking advantage of people’s “vulnerable condition” and drawing “unidentified victims” into the crime.
Two people detained in Belgium also identified Rahimpur as the person who bought boats and arranged their transport to the French coast.
Prosecutors are demanding that he repay £157,000, which they say represents the “capital gains derived directly from the offence”.
The defendants will be tried in the main court in Bruges.
Court artist’s drawing by Elizabeth Cook of 29-year-old Iranian Hewa Rahimpur, who lived in Ilford, appearing in the dock at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, central London, as proceedings began for his extradition to Belgium . Photo date: Thursday, May 5, 2022
Police from Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands coordinated the investigation into the group. Pictured: Recovery of equipment during a search in Osnabruck in 2022
Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy director of Europol, said migrants pay between £2,000 and £9,000 to cross and that the criminal group’s activity generated as much as £51.4 million in 2021 alone.
Andrea Wilson, NCA Deputy Director of Organized Immigration Crime, said at the time of Rahimpur’s arrest: ‘One of the ways we seek to disrupt these human smuggling networks is by attacking their supply of boats.
“Some of the boats we have seen trying to cross the English Channel were nothing less than death traps, held together with duct tape and wooden planks.
“Sadly, we have also seen how these crossings have led to deaths, so tackling this criminality is a priority for the NCA and our law enforcement partners both in the UK and abroad.”