Trial opens in France of alleged people smugglers
29 November 2007
PARIS – French prosecutors requested Wednesday jail sentences ranging from one to eight years against 25 suspected members of a vast immigration smuggling ring, in a Paris trial that wraps up Friday.
The so-called “Pashto Network” involved shipping largely Afghan and Iraqi Kurdish illegal aliens to Great Britain and led to arrests in the UK, Italy, Greece and Turkey, following an investigation that began in 2004.
When the first arrests took place in December 2005, officials it labelled France's biggest-ever immigration scam in years involving illegals destined for Britain.
On Wednesday, French prosecutor Olivier Bray asked for eight-year prison sentences apiece for four defendants, including the ring's three alleged “financiers” and its organiser, 22-year-old Iraqi Kurd Barzan Mohamed Amin, also known as “Baghet.”
He also requested six- and seven-year sentences for two of Amin's suspected lieutenants, and lesser terms for other defendants.
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 immigrants — who came mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan but also from Pakistan, Ethiopia and Somalia — crossed into Britain by hiding in lorries.
Amin's lawyer has denied the accused were in it for the money, suggested it was rather an immigrant help network.