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CRIME

French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

French police have busted a major people-smuggling ring that has been sending migrants to Britain in dinghies, with more than a dozen boats and 700 life jackets seized in a raid, French authorities said Thursday.

French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring
Migrants wait for help after their boat's generator broke down in French waters in May 2022 (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

The ring was run by Iraqi Kurdish migrants and had a logistics hub in Lille, a northern French city about 100 kilmetres (60 miles) from the northern Channel beaches around Calais that are used for crossings.

Three Iraqi men have been charged, along with three French suspects after their arrest on Monday.

Police discovered “a real factory supplying nautical equipment” in Lille, the head of French anti-migration agency Ocriest, Xavier Delrieu, told AFP.

In what was their biggest ever seizure of equipment, they found 13 inflatable boats, 14 outboard engines, 700 life jackets, 100 pumps and 700 litres of fuel, Delrieu said.

The group is suspected of having organised 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 succeeded, with the smugglers netting around €80,000 for each one.

The arrests came due to intelligence-sharing between authorities in Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, who are all trying to crack down on migrants crossing the Channel by boat.

The original tip-off came after a border guard control discovered a group of French youths carrying inflatables from Germany into the Netherlands.

More migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK from northern France so far this year than in the whole of 2021.

So far this year, more than 30,000 people have been detected crossing the Channel to the UK, fresh government figures showed Thursday. On Wednesday alone, the authorities detected another 667 people.

Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has faced some criticism from other Conservatives and in right-wing media outlets for not pressing for more French action against the crossings when she met President Emmanuel Macron in New York on Tuesday.

Downing Street said the issue did not come up at their talks on the margins of the UN General Assembly, which instead focused on common ground including Ukraine and energy security.

The crossings are among a host of issues that have badly strained Franco-British relations in recent years.

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POLITICS

French justice minister faces trial on conflict of interest charge

France's justice minister has been ordered to stand trial in a conflict of interest case that has embarrassed President Emmanuel Macron's government, his lawyers said on Monday.

French justice minister faces trial on conflict of interest charge

His lawyers said they had immediately lodged an appeal to block the move.

Eric Dupond-Moretti, a former star defence lawyer, was last year charged with misusing his position to settle scores with opponents from his legal career, becoming the first sitting French justice minister to be charged in a legal probe.

The accusations relate to administrative inquiries into three judges. The three had ordered police in 2014 to pore through the phone records of dozens of lawyers and magistrates, including Dupond-Moretti, as part of an investigation into former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The judiciary accused Dupond-Moretti of a witch-hunt.

He denied the allegations, saying he was merely acting on the recommendations of his staff to investigate possible mistakes by the magistrates who oversaw the seizures of the phone records.

The order to stand trial was issued by the investigation commission of the Law Court of the Republic in Paris (CJR), which hears cases of alleged wrongdoing by serving ministers.

But his lawyers, Christophe Ingrain and Remi Lorrain, said they had already appealed against the move.

“The order no longer exists,” they told reporters as they exited the CJR building.

Dupond-Moretti was not present.

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