People smuggling criminal network dismantled in Spain and UK – 18 suspects arrested

With the support of Europol, the Spanish Guardia Civil and the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) have successfully dismantled a major international criminal network involved in the smuggling of Iranian migrants into the European Union.

In the early hours of 26 November, 11 suspects were arrested in Spain and 7 in the United Kingdom. Spanish and British officers carried out 7 house searches in Spain and 11 in the UK. During the house searches, mobile telephones, bank statements and forged travel documents were seized.

Last year in August, the Spanish Guardia Civil started an investigation – Operation Marlo – into an organised crime group involved in facilitating illegal immigration from Iran to different EU and North American countries. The criminal group was composed of mainly Iranian nationals living in Spain and other European Member States.

The illegal immigrants were brought by car to Turkey and, after crossing the border to Greece, the travel continued to other countries within the Schengen area in order to take advantage of the free movement. The irregular migrants stayed in the transit countries until they were provided with false documents in order to be able to continue to their final destination, in most cases the United Kingdom or Canada. The clients were paying the organised crime group up to 18,000 euros (£14,500) for the facilitation of their illegal immigration. The criminal organisation had an extensive network of partners located strategically in the UK but also in other European countries. These partners were responsible for supplying the organisations’ ‘clients’ with false documents and for taking care of practicalities like housing and transport. The organisation had good knowledge of legislation on immigration and asylum in different countries allowing them to take advantage of legal loopholes and abuse legitimate forms of migration like weddings, reunions and asylum, thus ensuring the success of their illegal activities.

During the investigation 20 arrests were carried out in several European countries.

Europol supported the investigation by facilitating information exchange between the Member States involved and by providing operational analysis throughout the investigation. During the action day Europol deployed one mobile office and a mobile telephone forensic kit to Madrid to support the operation with on-the-spot analysis.

Europol Website