People smuggling gang dismantled

An Athens-based criminal network which smuggled migrants to the UK has been dismantled following an operation involving the UK’s organised immigration crime taskforce.
The National Crime Agency-led taskforce, Project Invigor, provided significant support and intelligence to Hellenic Police ahead of a series of raids across the Greek capital on 31 October and 1 November. Greek officers arrested 20 people and closed down four suspected forgery laboratories being used to manufacture identity documents.
They recovered hundreds of passports and ID documents, alongside 55,000 euros and a firearm.
Project Invigor includes officers from the NCA, Immigration Enforcement, Border Force and the Crown Prosecution Service. Assistance was also provided by officers from the NCA’s international network and Europol.
The Greek-based network is thought to have been behind hundreds of attempts a year to smuggle mainly Albanian migrants into the UK via Spain, Sweden and Italy, providing them with fraudulent Greek or Cypriot documentation and travel tickets.
The migrants would board low-cost airline flights to UK regional airports including Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh, paying around  £4,000 for what the group called a “guaranteed service”, including repeated attempts should they be refused entry first time.
The gang is also suspected of supplying false documents to Albanians already living in the UK, to enable them to obtain work and services posing as EU nationals, as well as customers in other European countries.
Thirteen of those arrested in Greece were Albanian. All 20 will now face prosecution in the Greek courts.
NCA deputy director Tom Dowdall, who heads the Invigor task force, said: “This organised criminal network may have been based in Greece but it was directly targeting the UK.
“Our officers were able to work on that UK link and share crucial pieces of information with their Greek partners leading to these arrests. We will continue to support them as the investigation continues.
“This operation demonstrates how we often have to work away from our own shores to protect the UK border, and take on the organised criminals involved in people smuggling at source.”

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