Crime gang who tried to smuggle 69 Albanians - including convicted killer - into UK jailed
MEMBERS of an eastern European crime group who tried to smuggle 69 Albanian migrants into the UK on a dilapidated fishing vessel - and planned to bring in 50 more every week - have been jailed.
The 30-metre converted trawler "Svanic" was intercepted off the Norfolk coast on November 17 last year. The boat - built nearly 60 years ago and with a lifeboat for just 20 people - had set sail from the Ostend area of Belgium and was heading towards Great Yarmouth.
But, it was escorted into Harwich international port in an operation involving the National Crime Agency (NCA), Border Force, HM Coastguard, Immigration Enforcement and Essex Police. The NCA had been alerted to the vessel by the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC) in Lisbon.
MAOC received a report of suspicious activity from the Swedish authorities who had to assist the Svanic after it ran aground 15 days prior to picking up the migrants. The vessel, which had been purchased in Latvia for around 20,000 euros in October 2020, was to run aground a second time before collecting the migrants in Belgium.
The three crew members - Igor Kosyi, (above) aged 56, and Volodymyr Mykhailov, 49, both from Ukraine, and Alexsandrs Gulpe, 44, from Latvia - were arrested by the NCA on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration.
The 69 migrants, who included a convicted murderer, were handed to Immigration Enforcement.
There was a failed attempt to prosecute them for illegal immigration, but the CPS had to withdraw the case after accepting they had been brought into the country by UK authorities. NCA investigators seized a laptop from the vessel, which enabled them to identify the UK-based gang which had orchestrated the attempt.
The computer had been given to the crew by Latvian national Sergejs Kuliss, 32, (above) of Albert Basin Way, Newham, London.
Phone evidence showed Kuliss was in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, on the night of the smuggling attempt, awaiting the arrival of the boat.
Throughout the day Kuliss had been in contact with fellow conspirators Lithuanian national Arturas Jusas, 35, living in Lambeth, and Israeli national Kfir Ivgi, 39, from Finchley.
Messages found on their phones showed the three men spent weeks discussing their plans to invest in a boat for the purpose of smuggling people, with Jusas claiming ‘from first trip we’re going to get the money back’.
Once the Svanic had been identified as a possible purchase Kuliss sent a sequence of photographs and videos of the boat to Jusas, which he forwarded to Ivgi (above).
He replied: 'Yes, yes, yes...I don't care how it looks like, it's good', indicating he didn't care about the condition of the vessel. In one audio messages found on his phone following his arrest, Jusas boasted to Ivgi that he planned to 'bring every week 50 people'. Other messages showed he was in contact with people on the 'other side' who wanted to move migrants to the UK. The trio had also scoped out potential landing sites for the vessel, which had only 21 lifejackets on board, eventually settling on Great Yarmouth. After the interception the gang shared online news reports about the incident with each other, with Ivgi messaging Jusas to say 'clean the...phone'.
Jusas, (above) Ivgi and Kuliss were arrested during a series of NCA raids in June this year after investigators were able to piece together their involvement in the plot. They were charged alongside Kosyi, Mykhailov, and Gulpe with conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration. Jusas pleaded guilty at Chelmsford Crown Court on August 6, but following an eight-week week trial at the same court Ivgi, Kuliss, Gulpe (below) and Kosyi were found guilty on Thursday (November 17) - exactly a year since the boat was intercepted.
Volodymyr Mykhailov was found not guilty.
At a hearing on December 21 Kuliss was sentenced to nine years imprisonment.
Ivgi got 10 years in jail.
Kosyi received a seven year sentence.
Jusas got nine years and nine months, while Gulpe's sentencing was adjourned to a later date. NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said: "There is no stronger example of how organised criminals are prepared to risk the lives of the people they smuggle for profit. "The Svanic was in an appalling condition, and in no fit state to make the perilous journey from Belgium to the UK. Had it got into trouble, the consequences could have been fatal as there was only one lifeboat and 21 lifejackets.
"The dangers wouldn't have crossed the minds of these men, whose sole motive was to line their pockets. They were planning to use this death trap over and over again. "Cases like these strengthen our resolve to come down hard on the organised criminals behind people smuggling, who ply their trade on exploitation and misery." David Fairclough, Deputy Director, Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigation, said: "These callous criminals had big plans to orchestrate a lucrative criminal operation at the expense of people's safety using an unseaworthy vessel with only 20 lifejackets onboard.
"It is sickening that criminal gangs like this have no regard for the value of human life only seeing them as a way to make money. As recent tragic events show these journeys are unnecessary, perilous, and sadly sometimes fatal.
"Thanks to the culmination of efforts across the Home Office and NCA, we've slammed the breaks on this ruthless crime gang, and they will now receive the justice they deserve."
KILLER ON THE BOAT
A CONVICTED murderer, who shot a woman in front of her eight-year-old daughter, was among several Albanian migrants caught hiding on the fishing boat.
Alfred Mahmutaj, 42, (above - EN&I) was among the 69 Albanian nationals found on the boat, who were immediately charged with illegally entering the country by the immigration service, only for all charges to be later dropped.
Mahmutaj was released from a maximum security prison in Albania in January after completing a 15-year-sentence for shooting Razije Allushi at her home in July 1997 after an argument.
Although the death of Ms Allushi, who was in her late 20s, was recorded as a murder it was not properly investigated at the time as Albania was going through a period of unrest with a dire lack of police resources. Prosecutors reviewed the case in 2006 and Mahmutaj was charged with the killing after the body was exhumed and found with several gunshots and the victim's daughter Teuta Allushi picked him out in an identity parade. Mahmutaj was initially found not guilty at trial in 2008. But, at an appeal court hearing in 2009 that was overturned and he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in the top-security Rrogozhina Prison. Mahmtaj, who maintained he was innocent, appealed to the High Court, but five judges insisted the murder conviction was sound. Ms Allushi told the original trial that her mother and Mahmutaj had argued a week before she was killed and he hit her on the head with a pitchfork. She said he came back with two other men a week later and tried to enter their home when her mother was shot as she looked through a window to see if they had gone. Also on the boat, intercepted off the coast of Great Yarmouth on November 17 2020, was Klevin Tomorri, 36, who was jailed for 58 days in Albania in 2009 for changing his testimony during a criminal trial. The vessel had sailed from Ostend in Belgium, when it was targeted by a joint operation involving the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement unit, Border Force and the National Crime Agency. Two Border Force ships escorted the boat to Harwich harbour and three others on board, a Latvian and two Ukranians, were charged with facilitating illegal entry to the UK and these prosecutions are being pursued. The immigration Enforcement Unit charged the 69 Albanians with illegal entry without the need of CPS advice. But, following a number of adjournments in the cases, the CPS concluded that the interception at sea and immediate detention meant they had not entered the UK illegally or committed a crime under the Immigration Act. A CPS spokesman said: "After careful consideration, we have decided our legal tests for prosecution were not met in relation to the 69 passengers. Proceedings commenced by Immigration Enforcement will therefore be discontinued and any convictions returned to court.” The Home Office spokesman added: "We are disappointed that the proceedings against the 69 people charged with illegal entry will be discontinued and we are working with the CPS urgently to resolve the issues raised by this case.
"The immigration cases of those involved will now be dealt with as quickly as possible and removal action will be pursued against anyone found to have no right to remain in the UK."
It is not known if Mahmutaj is still in the country.
Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK which campaigners for stricter border controls described the fact a convicted killer could have sneaked into the country as shocking.
He said: “What has happened is truly shocking. But there is no escaping the fact that the government bungled spectacularly.
"Sadly, these events also seem to show that the interests and safety of the law-abiding public are less important than the questionable rights of those whose awful crimes should dictate their removal.”
A Home Office spokesman said: "We will deny the benefits of refugee status to those who commit serious crimes and are a danger to the community. Those with no right to remain in the UK will be removed as soon as possible.
"All asylum seekers undergo security checks against immigration and police databases to identify those who may have been involved in criminality both in the UK or abroad."