London-Based Foreign Crime Gang Convicted for Smuggling 69 Albanians to UK

DOVER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09: The Border Force HMC Vigilant arrives at Dover docks carryi
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Five foreign nationals running a London-based migrant-smuggling network have been convicted for facilitating the illegal entry of 69 Albanians, who were later all released from charges on a technicality, in November 2020.

Four men have been found guilty at Chelmsford Crown Court on Wednesday of assisting unlawful immigration, in relation to the attempted smuggling of 69 Albanians into the UK in the 100-foot-long converted fishing trawler, the Svanic, on November 17th, 2020.

Those found guilty were named in a National Crime Agency (NCA) press release as two of the three crew members Aleksandrs Gulpe, 44, from Latvia, and Ifgor Kosyi, 56, from Ukraine, Israeli citizen Kfir Ivgi, 39, and Latvian Sergejs Kuliss, 39, the latter two having been arrested in raids in London in June.

Thirty-five-year-old London resident Arturas Jusas, from Lithuania, had already pleaded guilty to the same court on August 6th, while the court this week found the third Svanic crew member, Ukrainian national Volodymyr Mykhailov, 49, not guilty.

The five men will be sentenced at a later date.

The court heard during the eight-week trial how the London-based crime gang had purchased the fishing vessel in Latvia in October 2020 for around €20,000 (£17,000/$23,000) with the intention of aiding the illegal migration of 50 people every week.

The Svanic had set sail on November 17th of last year from the Ostend area of Belgium and was heading towards Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. The Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre in Lisbon, Portugal, had alerted the NCA of the vessel after suspicions had been initially raised by Swedish authorities.

A joint operation by the NCA, Essex Police, Border Force, the Coastguard, and Immigration Enforcement brought the vessel into Harwich international port, arresting the three crew and 69 illegals, with the migrants being handed to Immigration Enforcement and investigated on suspicion of illegal entry into the UK.

NCA investigations seized a laptop used by the crew, with messages on the migrant smuggling gang showing some of the men making plans for the trips, including Lithuanian Jusas claiming “from first trip we’re going to get the money back”. While migrants typically were paying between £2,000 and £4,000 to cross the English Channel from France by lorry or dinghy, the BBC reports that these migrants were paying £15,000 each.

Jusas had also been in contact with people from the “other side” about illegally bringing migrants to the UK. One voice message has Jusas telling Israeli citizen Ivgi that he planned to “bring every week 50 people”.

The story of the mass arrests made headlines at the time for being what was then considered the biggest operation of its kind that year. However, it was revealed less than a month later, in December 2020, that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had dropped the charges against all the Albanians, because they had been appended at sea, and arrested before they had set foot on British soil. They had all been released reportedly despite ten pleading guilty to illegal entry charges and having already begun their eight-week prison sentences.

Other reports from that time claimed that one of those Albanian migrants set free was a convicted murderer, with the BBC adding in this week’s reports there was also a serious drug offender who had previously been deported from the UK. Both men were reportedly immediately sent back to Albania.


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