Human trafficking gang with bases in Hastings and St Leonards jailed
A group of 13 gang members who trafficked people from the Middle East into the UK – including three people from Hastings and St Leonards – have been convicted.
A two-year investigation, led by detectives from the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU), uncovered the network which specialised in facilitating the illegal movement of people from Iraq and the Kurdistan region into the UK.
Several separate trials have now taken place and, following the conclusion of the final trial at Woolwich Crown Court, the full details of investigation can now be revealed.
The gang members were convicted of offences including conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration, money laundering and perverting the course of justice.
Throughout the trials, the courts heard how the gang would use contacts across the UK, Europe and Asia to move people to a holding point – often in south-eastern France. They were then taken by taxi to Belgium, where they would be hidden within lorries heading to the UK by ferry.
The victims would travel either in the lorry cab, on top of the cab in the wind deflector, or underneath the trailer on a pallet shelf, according to SEROCU. If they were detained in the UK, they would immediately claim asylum and be released to UK family members, who had paid the organised crime group between £8,000 and £10,000 per individual.
If they were not caught, the lorry would take the victims to meet a UK-based member of the organised crime group at a service station close to the ferry terminal where they would be taken away in a waiting car, a spokesman for SEROCU said.
This was a complex and challenging investigation which was led by detectives from SEROCU and involved colleagues from Sussex Police, Kent Police, Devon and Cornwall Police, West Midlands Police, Nottinghamshire Police, and UK Border Force.
Officers quickly established that this human trafficking operation was being led by 33-year-old Alan Hoger and 34-year-old Goran Ahmed – from St Leonards and Hastings respectively.
Hoger and Ahmed, who are both Kurdish, had set up operating bases in Hastings and St Leonards for their criminal enterprise but had a nationwide network of customers, money launderers and criminal associates in places such as Bolton, Nottingham, Devon, Brighton, Eastbourne and Hull, according to SEROCU.
SEROCU said Hoger had boasted of being a millionaire to his friends, as he laundered his profits from the organised crime group with help from his wife – through legitimate companies – back to the Kurdistan region. Throughout this investigation, a total of £144,000 in cash was seized.
Alan Hoger, 33, of Kenilworth Road, was found guilty of four counts of conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration to the UK and one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property. He was sentenced to a total of 10 years’ imprisonment. He was the head of the organised crime group.
Ahmed, 34, of Farley Bank, was found guilty of four counts of conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration to the UK and one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property. He was sentenced to a total of eight years’ imprisonment. He was ‘second in command’ and would run the operation while Hoger was out of the UK.
Other key members of the gang were Cristinel Samson, a 50-year-old Romanian lorry driver, of Grimstone Avenue, Folkestone, Kent, who was responsible for smuggling illegal migrants into the UK, and Ionut Cornila, a 27-year-old Romanian lorry driver, who was responsible for arranging and co-ordinating other drivers around Europe.
The pair was sentenced to five years and four years imprisonment respectively, for their roles in the gang.
A number of others were also jailed for their part in assisting the traffickers and attempting to disrupt the police investigation.
These include Kveta Conkova, 31, of Kenilworth Road, who was found guilty of one count of converting criminal property and sentenced to three years and six months’ imprisonment. She is the wife of Alan Hoger and assisted with laundering money for the organised crime group.
Alan Salam, 34, of The Rookery, Eastbourne, was found guilty of one count of converting criminal property, one count of perverting the course of justice and one count of conspiracy to pervert the court of justice. He was sentenced to four years and three months’ imprisonment. He assisted with laundering money for the organised crime group and attempted to pervert the course of justice into the group.
Susan Mohammed, 36, of The Rookery, Eastbourne, was found guilty of one count of perverting the course of justice and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. She assisted with laundering money for the organised crime group.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve May, from SEROCU’s investigations team, said: “This gang took advantage of their links to the Middle East to exploit vulnerable people for financial gain, with no concern about putting their lives in danger.
“They targeted the Kurdish community and looked to make as much profit out of every individual they could exploit. Their only concern was their profit margins.
“They set up an elaborate network of contacts to facilitate their work, which was uncovered by SEROCU officers assisted by our colleagues in a number of police forces and other agencies. The joint approach to investigating this organised crime group was invaluable as we were dealing with offenders based all across the UK and beyond.
“We are pleased that the seriousness of this offending has been recognised by the sentences imposed by the courts.
“This case should serve as a clear warning to those involved in trafficking people into the UK. Be in no doubt, we have an extensive investigative network and range of tactics to combat such criminal activity. We will seek them out and bring them before the courts.”
Detective Superintendent Jeff Riley, Sussex Police policy lead on modern slavery, said; “This case originated in Sussex and we worked closely to support our SEROCU colleagues in their arrests of the two principals. This case illustrates once again the success of the co-ordinated law enforcement approach to organised crime groups.”