Eighteen arrested in sting against migrant smuggling to the UK

Malaga resident arrested for allegedly stabbing a neighbour three times

Malaga resident arrested for allegedly stabbing a neighbour three times. Image: Policia Nacional

Criminal networks facilitated the illegal entry of more than 400 Albanian nationals to the UK and US.

An investigation led by the Spanish National Police, with close cooperation with the Albanian Police and law enforcement and immigration authorities in Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia, Kosovo, Portugal, the UK and US, led officers to dismantle an organised crime group involved in migrant smuggling and document fraud.

Spanish police arrested 18 people in the operation. They also seized counterfeited documents, financial documentation, records of the illegal activities, electronic equipment, cash and various drugs including cannabis, cocaine and synthetic drugs.

Since 2019, the investigation examined the growing use of specific types of falsified documents by Western Balkan immigrants. Previous phases of the investigation led to the dismantling of a group of criminals identified on the Caribbean island of Saint Maarten who smuggled Albanian immigrants with falsified documents to the US. Couriers travelling to Kosovo and Albania to distribute the falsified documents were also arrested in December 2020. Four print shops for forged documents in Kosovo were dismantled in March 2021. So far, the investigation has led to 46 arrests, more than 400 migrants identified at airports and 1,000 false documents seized, EUROPOL said in a statement on July 12.

Eventually, the investigation targeted a criminal network based in the UK and Ireland, which managed the flights and the reception of the migrants into those countries. Intelligence shared by the US Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations led to the identification of a high-value target in Spain.

The suspect and his accomplices facilitated the illegal entry of migrants through various airports in Spain and Portugal into the UK, while providing them with forged French identity cards. The operation in Europe is also connected to three ongoing criminal investigations in the United States.

According to the Policia Nacional, “The leader of the Spanish cell hired Spanish women who accompanied the trafficked, posing as their sentimental partner and, in this way, they pretended to be a couple made up of a Spanish and a French, avoiding border controls. Due to the reduction in flights due to the pandemic, they boarded through different Spanish and Portuguese airports to avoid repetition and being discovered.

“The ‘companions’ were also in charge of buying air tickets so that the continuous purchase of tickets in the name of the leader was not detected. For this reason, they received an advance to pay the ticket and small expenses, and the rest of the payment was made by the family of the trafficked person once they had reached their destination. In total they paid about 2,000 euros for documentation and travel.”

Fourteen suspects were arrested in Valencia, three in Barcelona and two in Salou.

Europol coordinated the investigation, facilitated the exchange of information, and provided analytical and forensic support. On the action day, Europol deployed a virtual command post to enable the real-time exchange of information between investigators and deployed an expert to Spain to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases and provide leads to investigators in the field. Europol also financed the deployment of officers from the Albanian State Police who took part in the action day in Spain.

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Deirdre Tynan

Deirdre Tynan is an award-winning journalist who enjoys bringing the best in news reporting to Spain’s largest English-language newspaper, Euro Weekly News. She has previously worked at The Mirror, Ireland on Sunday and for news agencies, media outlets and international organisations in America, Europe and Asia. A huge fan of British politics and newspapers, Deirdre is equally fascinated by the political scene in Madrid and Sevilla. She moved to Spain in 2018 and is based in Jaen.