People-smugglers in court over British connection
15 November 2007
PARIS – The trial opened in Paris Wednesday of 25 men — mainly Afghans and Iraqi Kurds — who allegedly smuggled thousands of illegal immigrants into Britain up to 2005.
The so-called “Pashto Network” is described by prosecutors as the biggest immigration scam uncovered in France in recent years, and its alleged members face up to 10 years in jail.
The group charged some 8,000 dollars (5,500 euros) to bring immigrants to France, with a further fee for crossing the English channel. The money was mainly paid in the form of transfers to Western Union bank accounts in Britain.
The defendants were first spotted by police in 2004, when an Afghan man was found transporting five of his compatriots in his car in central Paris.
An undercover surveillance team watched the group for several months, before an international police round-up in December 2005 netted some 50 suspects in five countries.
The group was based mainly around the Gare de l'Est in Paris, which became the centre of people-smuggling activity after the closure of the Sangatte Red Cross centre on the northern French coast in 2002.
The immigrants — who came mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan but also from Pakistan, Ethiopia and Somalia — crossed into Britain by hiding on lorries.
The defendants are answering charges relating only to the period between 2004 and 2005, but police believe they were at work from 1999 and smuggled some 4,000 people across the channel.
The lawyer for one of the group's alleged leaders, 22 year-old Kurd Barzan Mohamed Amin, denied that they were in it for the money.
“There's no proof of personal enrichment. The police have tried to portray as a criminal enterprise what is in fact a system of mutual help,” said Leon-Lef Forster.