Almost 50 suspected smuggling gang members arrested

12 January 2020, 15:46

The gang would acquire fraudulent UK visas
The gang would acquire fraudulent UK visas. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Nearly 50 suspected members of a people smuggling ring which brought migrants into Europe by fraudulently obtaining them UK tourist visas have been arrested.

The group would charge around £6,000 per person and trafficked more than 130 people from Morocco into Spain and other European countries, according to Gibraltar and Spanish police.

Some 200 officers, directed by Europol, made 47 arrests as they worked to smash the crime group, which had made more than one million euros from its illicit acts.

The investigation began in November 2018 when Gibraltar police noticed a spike in the number of Moroccans arriving from Casablanca and Tangier using UK short-stay tourist visas, Royal Gibraltar Police said.

Once in Gibraltar, the smugglers took migrants into Spain by car under cover of darkness, where they could stay or board coaches to different countries.

The group deployed sophisticated measures to evade surveillance and managed to promptly replace members who were arrested, Gibraltar Police added.

A statement said: "A dossier containing fraudulent supporting documents was compiled and submitted in order to obtain the requisite UK tourist visa.

"Once the tourist visa was obtained for each migrant, the organised crime group facilitated the purchase of flight tickets and accommodation reservations for Gibraltar, also issuing migrants with instructions on the steps to take upon arrival at Gibraltar including establishing contact with those awaiting their arrival."

Royal Gibraltar Police commissioner Ian McGrail said: "This investigation is one visible example of the type of work that goes on behind the scenes to protect our borders from threats to national security.

"It also sends a message that Gibraltar will not allow itself to be used by unscrupulous criminals who exploit the human suffering of migrants for economic benefit.

"Organised crime has a huge impact on society at large, we are therefore duty bound to counteract activities which pose a risk to our community with all the policing instruments at our disposal."