Two private planes were seized at Kortrijk-Wevelgem airport, which were used for people smuggling. On Tuesday morning, September 13, an international police operation rounded up an organization of people smugglers. The gang operated from our country and used private planes to smuggle people. “We already know people smuggling in boats and via trucks, this is completely new,” said Attorney General Vincent Van Quickenborne.
The operation, which involved police forces from Belgium, Italy, Germany, France, Austria and the United States, was led by an investigating judge in Brussels from the federal public prosecutor’s office. The Federal Judicial Police (FGP) in Brussels, assisted by e.g. The Directorate for Serious and Organized Crime (DJSOC) of the Federal Judicial Police was also supported by Europol for this investigation. During the action, two planes were seized and five people were arrested, two of them in our country and three in Italy. “It is not yet clear whether these 2 planes were actually deployed or would be used for smuggling flights. They were definitely in the possession of 1 of the people who were arrested,” explains Ann Bergels from the Federal Police.
People smuggling with private planes and fake diplomatic passports
Human trafficking by this organization was always done in the same way. The passengers, mainly people of Kurdish origin, boarded a private plane in Turkey with fake diplomatic passports. However, the official destination of the trip – usually the Caribbean – was never reached. During a stopover at a European airport, the migrants left the plane, destroyed their fake passports and systematically applied for asylum.
In addition to human smuggling and false documents, the organization was also involved in issuing fake checks and defrauding airlines in an attempt to build its own fleet. Hotels were also defrauded for non-payment of invoices. The organization collected exorbitant prizes of up to $20,000 per smuggled person.
Between October and December 2020, at least five smuggling operations took place in five different European countries. In addition, several plans were made to carry out other smuggling operations.
Two planes seized
Thanks to intensive research by the Belgian investigators and good cooperation with other European and American police services, it was determined that the base of the organization was located in Belgium.
The intervention on Tuesday morning, 13 September 2022, coordinated by Europol and Eurojust, targeted Italy and France in addition to Belgium. This action led to the arrest of 5 people, including 2 in Belgium. The investigating judge has since confirmed their arrest. They are suspected of facts about human trafficking, money laundering, participation in a criminal organization and document forgery.
In addition, a large sum of money, various goods used by the organization and two planes were seized during the operation. The fact that the false documents were produced by the organization in Belgium was confirmed during the operation by the discovery of production material.
National security plan
This research is fully in line with the National Security Plan (NVP) 2022-2025 for the Integrated Police. This plan includes dealing with organized crime, human trafficking and crimes against physical and mental integrity as important security themes.
Many (police) services from home and abroad participated in the action: the Federal Judicial Police (FGP) in Brussels, the Directorate for Serious and Organized Crime (DJSOC), the Aviation Police, the Dog Support Directorate, a local police zone, police services from Italy, Germany, Austria, France and the USA , the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, Europol and Eurojust.