Spanish police break up crime ring smuggling Iranians into UK
A total of 101 people were arrested in the operation, Europol announced in a Thursday statement.
Fourteen members of the group were detained by the Spanish National Police in Málaga, along with 42 people accused of selling their Spanish documents to members of the smuggling ring for €500 to €3,000 (US$592 to $3,554).
Forty-four Iranian citizens were detained at various European airports while carrying forged passports.
The leader of the crime ring was arrested by the Metropolitan Police at London's Heathrow Airport, after a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was issued by Spanish authorities.
“The suspect intended to take a flight to Brazil to evade justice,” Europol wrote in the statement.
It goes on to note that seven Iranian individuals were identified during searches in Spain, including a five-year-old child. Police seized evidence including official passports (30 Iranian and 10 Spanish), computers, printers, more than 400 blank ID cards, firearms, €1,300 ($1,540) in cash and a high-end vehicle.
The investigation was launched one year ago, after seven Iranians were caught trying to catch a flight from Hamburg, Germany, to the UK while carrying both forged and authentic passports, most of which were Spanish. It was discovered that the flight tickets had been purchased through a travel agency based in Málaga, with further investigation uncovering the migrant smuggling network.
“The criminal group was perfectly structured and each member had a defined role, ranging from recruiting the irregular migrants in their country of origin, to facilitating the transfers, hosting them in safe houses in Spain, and supplying the travel documents,” the Europol statement reads.
The European law enforcement agency assisted in the operation by providing analytical support and organizing operational meetings at its headquarters in The Hague. On the day of the bust, an expert from the agency's European Migrant Smuggling Center was deployed to Málaga to support Spanish authorities.
“This allowed for real-time information exchange and cross-checks against Europol’s databases,” the agency wrote.