Police bust gang smuggling people across Channel from France

European police have busted a human smuggling ring said to be part of network transporting thousand of people in life-threatening conditions across the Channel to Britain.

Police bust gang smuggling people across Channel from France
Illustration photo: AFP

Law officers, working together with Europe's policing and judicial agencies Europol and Eurojust arrested 12 suspected smugglers over the last two days, the Hague-based Eurojust said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Twelve suspects were arrested in the combined operation including seven in France, three in Britain and two in the Netherlands,” it said.

Police also seized 12 vehicles, 10 rubber boats and engines, 152 life jackets, a caravan, a boat trailer, jewellery, about €48,000 in cash, documents and mobile devices, Eurojust said.

Those arrested are suspected of being part of a mainly Iranian organised smuggling gang based in France, the Netherlands and Britain, organising their activities through their ties in the various countries.

“The network is believed to have made huge profits from smuggling migrants in small boats from the north coasts of France to Britain,” charging an average of €3,000 per crossing, Eurojust said.

“Transporting migrants in overloaded boats, often in very difficult weather conditions on one of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in the world, endangered the lives of both the migrants and also the law enforcement officers conducting sea rescue operations,” it said.

Eurojust said smuggling activity has “increased exponentially” in recent months with over 4,600 irregular migrants detected since 2018 on British shores.

The combined operation comes as French police on Tuesday dismantled a camp of about 800 migrants in the port city of Calais.

Calais continues to attract migrants from the Middle East and Africa who set up makeshift camps along France's northern coast from where they hope to make the passage across the English Channel to Britain.

Since January 1st, French authorities have intercepted at least 1,317 people as they tried to reach the UK, some by swimming across the busy waterway.

In August, a Sudanese teenager drowned while trying to reach Britain with a friend in an inflatable boat.

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French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.