top of page

Romanian lorry drivers working with east London cabbies to smuggle people in and out of UK

TWO lorry drivers who are accused of smuggling migrants for a London-based organised crime group have been arrested in Romania and now face extradition back to the UK as part of a National Crime Agency investigation.

Nicolae Toma, 43, from Arad in Romania is accused of attempting to smuggle nine migrants out of the UK in September 2020.

At the time he was allowed to proceed once the migrants had been removed from his lorry, but the NCA were later able to link him to the crime group and he was arrested on his return to the UK the following June.

After being released under investigation he never returned to be charged and was listed as wanted.

Vasile Balcovei, 49, from Tulcea in Romania is suspected of having dropped two migrants he had smuggled into the UK at Thurrock Services in Essex in February 2021.

The drop-off was witnessed by a member of the public, and the two migrants were picked up by a mini-cab which was being tracked by the NCA.

Officers were later able to trace Balcovei’s lorry back to the scene, but by that time he had left the country.

NCA investigators suspect both men were working for an organised crime group headed by Mohammed Mokter Hossain, 54, (above) from Woodford Green.

Hossain, who was the main subject of an NCA investigation codenamed Operation Symbolry, was jailed for 10-and-a-half years at Snaresbrook Crown Court in June for directing a network which used complicit lorry drivers to move people in both directions across the Channel.

Toma and Balcovei were arrested by Romanian police on 2 September on the basis of warrants issued by the UK.

Balcovei was extradited back to the UK today (Tuesday 12 September) and will appear before Westminster Magistrates Court.

Toma remains in custody in Romania.

NCA senior investigating officer Chris Hill said:

“Engaging complicit lorry drivers was critical to Hossain’s people smuggling business model.

“The arrest of these men demonstrates the international reach of the NCA, and our determination to do all we can to track down and bring to justice those we suspect of being involved in people smuggling.

“Tackling organised immigration crime remains a priority for the NCA.”

Operation Symbolry has already seen five lorry drivers with links to the OCG convicted of people smuggling offences.

Another five mini-cab drivers are due to stand trial in January 2024 for offences linked to the network.

Today the NCA responded to a newspaper report that it had said Channel crossings by small boats cannot be stopped without the Rwanda resettlement scheme going ahead.

An NCA spokesman said: "Tackling organised immigration crime is a top priority for us. The NCA alone has more than 90 ongoing investigations into networks or individuals in the top tier of people smuggling or human trafficking, and operations to reduce small boats crossings sit right at the top of the NCA’s priority list. Our activity both in the UK and overseas is having an impact, resulting in hundreds of arrests, and the disruption of a large number of networks involved in this type of criminality. There is no single solution, law enforcement alone cannot end these crossings, but our work is having an impact and will be even more effective if people are deterred from taking these dangerous journeys in the first place.”

Anyone with information about this type of illegal activity, particularly lorry drivers who can be approached by organised criminals, should contact the police on 101 or the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.


bottom of page