EXCLUSIVE: 'Key player in £63m people smuggler ring' back on streets after judge refuses extradition
AN alleged key player in a people smuggling ring estimated to have netted £63 million from migrants desperate to get to the UK in less than 18 months is back on the streets after a judge refused to extradite him to France. Hashem Saleh Bazlah, 32, was arrested on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in March and remanded in custody while he fought extradition. He is wanted in France to face charges of human trafficking, assisting unlawful immigration, money laundering and participation in a criminal organisation. Alex Tinsley, who opened the case for the French authorities at Westminster Magistrates' Court, said Mr Bazlah was "personally, directly and practically involved in people smuggling operations" which got mainly Iraqi nationals into the UK from France hidden in lorries. The court heard Mr Bazlah was regularly seen at a migrant camp in the Le Mans area from August 2018 to January this year, when the gang took in fees totalling 70 million Euros from people wanting to be smuggled into the UK. On January 6 he was seen leaving a "squat" used as a waiting area for the migrants before getting into an Audi A6 with the alleged head of the gang Abdallah Rekan. The court heard the camp was a “place for grouping together migrants, including children, in accommodation with unhealthy and precarious conditions." Mr Tinsley said: "A few minutes before, migrants were observed boarding a vehicle which comes back empty two hours later, suggesting they have been put on lorries." The same month French investigators tailed Mr Bazlah and other gang members to the Netherlands to the Bastion” hotel in Vlaardingen where rooms they stayed in were later found to contain forged Romanian identity documents, the court heard. It was said that the smugglers paid the cash received from migrants to a “banker”, who then releases the money once migrants reach the UK. Mr Tinsley said: "France is clearly describing his effective personal participation in an organised smuggling network, being present with another key person at the location and time of a specific smuggling operation and driving together with other persons carrying false documents. "This is consistent with the central role which he was said to have had in this conspiracy in a criminal organisation." But after six months of extradition hearings, while Mr Bazlah was held in custody, Judge Karim Ezzat discharged the case. He wrote in his judgement: "He is identified as occupying a ‘central role’ in the operation but no greater specifics are given as to what his involvement was. "The EAW is wholly deficient. "The actions attributed to the requested person do not amount to any criminal activity unless viewed in the context of further incriminating evidence. "There is absolutely no conduct described that identifies any activity that he is specifically said to have engaged in that would amount to money laundering." Mr Bazlah was released on conditional bail as the French are appealing the discharge.
(Main image - BBC file picture)