Leyton smugglers used planes to transport migrants from Calais to Essex

By Staff

Two East London people smugglers used small aeroplanes to transport migrants from Calais to Essex and set them up with fake passports, ID cards and utility bills to help establish them in the UK. The fixers were caught during a major eight-year investigation by the National Crime Agency to dismantle an Albanian organised crime group.

Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, both from Leyton, were behind at least nine migrant journeys in 2016 and 2017, three of which were via a light aircraft to an aerodrome in Essex. Hilaj was the UK co-ordinator for the multi-national organised crime group.

In 2017, NCA officers prevented and intercepted a number of crossings from Europe, working closely with French and Belgian counterparts. Many of the migrants had Hilaj’s number saved on their phones, and had either communicated directly with him or with common contacts.

READ MORE: Engineer smuggled 29kg of cannabis worth £174k from Toronto to Gatwick to pay off drug debt

Telephone evidence revealed that the pair were fixers for a criminal network that charged Albanian migrants around £10,000 each to enter the UK, and then helped those individuals establish themselves in the country. This included providing them with counterfeit passports, ID cards and fake utility bills.

Hilaj ensured that the vehicles transporting migrants arrived safely at a discreet location in the UK, dropped off their passengers and returned to their scheduled legitimate route without arousing suspicion. He was also in regular contact with illegal migrants before and during their journey.

Kadena acted as his assistant and was primarily involved in smuggling migrants using light aircraft. On 9 July 2017, he helped to facilitate a flight carrying an unknown number of migrants from Calais to Essex, travelling to Stapleford airfield himself to collect and transport the migrants from the airfield once they had landed.

NCA surveillance officers watched pub ‘fallout’ meeting

A planned flight on July 17 2017 was intercepted by French police before the aircraft took off from Marck airfield near Calais. Four migrants, including a child, were safeguarded. The UK pilot and facilitator were both arrested, the latter having been in frequent contact with Kadena. Both were charged and convicted in France.

On the same day, following the interception in France, NCA surveillance officers observed Hilaj and Kadena at a “fallout” meeting in a pub.

Hilaj and Kadena were arrested on July 26, 2017 at their home addresses by the NCA. Hilaj was found with a number of false identity documents which he planned to pass on to those he helped to smuggle in. On one of his phones, officers discovered messages in which he had corrected typing errors on false documents, as well as online searches regarding the aircraft interdiction on July 17.

Kadena was found with a small quantity of cannabis, as well as a security fob for the gate at Stapleford Airfield. Hilaj and Kadena were convicted today (March 15) by a jury at Southwark Crown Court, and are due to be sentenced at the same court on 17 May 2024.

The result marks the end of the eight-year NCA investigation – codenamed Operation Micropus – into the Albanian organised crime group involved in facilitating illegal migration, money laundering, drug trafficking and the supply of counterfeit documents.

To date, the operation has resulted in 27 arrests, 11 UK conviction and nine convictions overseas. Four “forgery factories” have also been closed by police.

Saju Sasikumar, NCA Senior Investigating Officer, said: “This investigation has dismantled an organised crime group who not only facilitated illegal migration, but provided a complete service to those they helped into the country, ensuring they could gain work and access services illegally.

“Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA and we work tirelessly to target people smugglers here in the UK and overseas, who risk lives and exploit others in the pursuit of profit. Today’s convictions may mark the end of this particular operation, but our work to tackle the threat from organised immigration crime is only increasing.”

Previous convictions under the same operation include five individuals convicted of supplying fraudulent identity documents. Hilaj utilised the services of this group to source documents that were supplied to illegal migrants allowing them access to jobs, banking and services.

Dmytro Mykhailytskyi, Arsen Baculi, Sergiy Mykhaylov, Genadijs Kalinins and Oleksandr Sukhoviy ran an industrial-scale forgery factory in Stratford, East London. Over 3,000 completed identity documents, 3,500 passport style photos and 300 Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS) cards were seized during the investigation, along with 40,000 blank cards and £15,000 in cash. They were sentenced to a combined total of 22 years and one month in jail, and have since been subject to confiscation orders totalling £939,000.

Our London Court & Crime newsletter brings you the latest major court updates and breaking news straight to your inbox. You can sign up HERE.

Share This Article
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *