People Smugglers Made Millions

Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 October 2006, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK

People smugglers made millions
By Richard Foster
BBC News

Leaders of a gang which made millions of pounds smuggling illegal immigrants into the UK have been jailed after Scotland Yard's biggest ever investigation into human trafficking.

The immigrants were starved and dehydrated.

Operation Bluesky was the largest investigation into human trafficking ever conducted by the Metropolitan Police.

Several networks, paid directly by the UK-based syndicate, were identified in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Italy.

UK detectives liaised with colleagues across Europe and eventually unearthed 11,000 pages of evidence with thousands of exhibits, identifying more than 400 illegal immigrants who the gang had attempted to smuggled into the UK over a two-year period.

Police raids

In October last year police raids led to 21 people being arrested in the UK and 10 were charged with people smuggling. More arrests were made in Belgium.

Three men from Turkey were at the top of the organisation – Ali Riza Gun, Ramazan Zorlu and Hassan Eroglu.

None of them had UK citizenship but all had indefinite leave to remain.

The ringleaders were Zorlu, Eroglu and Gun.

The ring, which had operated for up to 10 years, was run from a number of Turkish cafes in the Green Lanes area of Haringey, north London.

Ali Riza Gun was a repeat offender. He was convicted of people smuggling in the UK in 1996 and sentenced to 30 months in jail.

He was also convicted of people smuggling in France in 1998. He got three years but served only a year.

He had a UK travel permit, and his own false Cypriot passport and specialised in making false passports, dozens of which were found stuffed in a cuddly toy in a flat in Haringey.

More than 20 people were arrested in October 2005

When the police seized his computer they found scans of passport stamps which could be overlaid in graphics programmes to make convincing forgeries.

The gang's clients were predominantly Turkish and Kurdish.

Cars, trains, lorries, ferries and light aircraft were all used to smuggle people into Britain.

Immigrants came in through ports including Dover, Portsmouth, Immingham near Hull, and Ipswich.

Evaded scanners

The route took them from Turkey via Bulgaria to Hungary, Germany and Belgium. They were often kept in the Belgian city of Antwerp before heading to the UK.

The most common starting point was the town of Aksaray, south of Ankara.

Immigrants were often smuggled in secret compartments built under lorry trailers, and avoided detection from scanners. They were found dehydrated and starved.

Small airfields in Cambridgeshire and Kent were also used.

Police believe they blocked the smuggling of 414 immigrants due to come to the UK, 47 of whom got into the country but were detained. Some had pieces of paper carrying Ali Riza Gun's mobile number.

Secret compartments were built inside lorries

Most of those who did make it to the UK found low-paid, black-market jobs in London's Turkish community.

Each immigrant was charged on average 3,500 to arrive from Belgium or 14,000 from Turkey.

Eroglu was linked to the ring when he collected a lorry which had been impounded in Ipswich.

Intercepted calls

Various European police forces intercepted phone calls between gang members who were heard talking about getting passports, when people would be arriving and where from. The conversations were in Turkish but uncoded.

Phone tap evidence is usually inadmissible in UK courts but this was carried out abroad and therefore had not broken the law.

The gang regularly changed their mobiles to evade detection. Ali Riza Gun and Zorlu each had 17 pre-pay mobile phones.

Police are now planning to recover 5.5m of the gang's assets which they say was generated in the last two years alone.

They think the ring could have generated between 18m and 20m in total.