Suspected people-smugglers on trial in Paris
Agence France Presse, March 3, 2010
A group of 28 suspected members of one of Europe's biggest people-smuggling rings went on trial today in Paris where they risk jail sentences of up to ten years.
The 'Baghdad ring' of smugglers charged between 10,000 euros and 15,000 euros (14,000 and 20,000 dollars) to migrants seeking passage to Britain, Ireland, Sweden and Norway, according to French prosecutors.
The migrants were mostly Kurds from northern Iraq but some also came from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, reaching France after a long dangerous journey through Turkey, Greece and Italy.
Prosecutors believe 1,000 illegal migrants paid members of the 'Baghdad ring' between early 2007 and mid-2008 to reach northern Europe.
Police from 10 European countries in June arrested 105 people as part of an operation to dismantle the trafficking ring. Investigators had said the raids marked the biggest joint operation against illegal immigration staged by the European Union.
All of the 28 defendants have been charged with criminal conspiracy and working as a organised gang to facilitate illegal entry and residency in France, charges that carry a maximum ten-year jail sentence.
French prosecutors said the smuggling ring offered two types of services: a 'bulk' variant and a second, more costly option that guaranteed passage.
In the first option, large numbers of migrants were taken to port crossings where they scurried to sneak onboard trucks as they were loaded onto ferries.
In the second package, about a dozen migrants were driven by an accomplice in a camper truck to the desired destination, according to French prosecutors.
There have been convictions of suspected members of the smuggling ring in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The trial is set to run until March 26.