The Daily Telegraph

‘Luxury people smugglers’ use diplomatic IDS and private jets

- By James Crisp

A GANG used private jets and fake diplomatic passports to smuggle migrants into Europe from Turkey, police said yesterday.

Five members of the gang were arrested in raids in Belgium and Italy on Tuesday, the Europol agency said. The alleged criminals charged up to £17,500 per person smuggled. Migrants, mostly Kurds from Iran or Iraq, boarded the private planes with the false passports.

The flights were usually bound for the Caribbean but Europol said the migrants would never get there.

“During stopovers at different European airports, including in Austria, France and Germany, the migrants left the plane, disposed of their false passports and systematic­ally applied for asylum,” the Hague-based agency said.

“It is believed that between October and December 2020, at least five smuggling operations took place in five different European countries.”

The migrants were given fake diplomatic papers from the Caribbean nation of St Kitts and Nevis before setting off from Turkey and making unexpected stopovers in Italy, France, Germany, Austria or Belgium.

Authoritie­s seized two private jets, a high-end car, £70,000 and equipment used to make fake identity documents. A total of £151,400 was frozen in Italy.

Two of the arrests were made in Belgium and three in Italy during raids that involved searches at six houses in Italy and one in Belgium.

Two other suspects were reported to be on the run.

The gang is also suspected of issuing false cheques, scamming airlines in an attempt to build its own fleet and defrauding hotels by not paying bills.

The suspects face accusation­s of people smuggling, document fraud and money laundering.

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