Iranian-born Ferzad Pezeshk, 39, of Barnet, was sentenced at Inner London Crown Court on Monday after pleading guilty to facilitating a number of Iranian and Afghan illegal immigrants into the United Kingdom for gain, using stolen and forged stolen passports and the internet.
Two of his henchmen – Mohammed Amiralli, 34, of Ilford and Ghulam Kiatavosi, 30 (16.04.1979), of St John’s Wood, previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced for their part in the conspiracy.
A further man, Iranian-born Ali Reza Khalili, 36, pleaded guilty to possession of a forged passport supplied by Pezeshk.
All of the three main UK-based defendants were, along with other as yet unidentified members, part of a sophisticated international smuggling network that spanned Europe and Asia.
The trio were arrested between October 2008 and March 2009, following a joint investigation led by Operation Maxim, part of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Command, and the Stansted Command Intelligence Unit, part of the UK Border Agency.
During the course of their investigations a team of detectives revealed how the gang would charge clients up to £12,000 to smuggle them out of their home countries, principally Afghanistan and Iran, through various European countries and into the UK.
Their route westwards included scheduled stop-offs in safe houses in the Arab Emirates, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Norway, France and Sweden.
The first stop would see them lying low in hotels and guest houses for anything up to a month.
The gang would then arrange for them to be taken under escort to Turkey or Greece where they would again be housed in various hotels.
Meanwhile, UK-based gang members would use false credit cards to book flights for the clients via the internet.
A "facilitator" would then fly out to meet the clients before handing over false or stolen UK, US or European passport and e-boarding passes for flights with budget airlines.
The facilitator would then accompany the passenger through passport/checking control and on to inter-European flights to regional airports in either France or Sweden. From here they would catch a flight to London, Stansted.
Whilst on the inbound flight, the facilitator would take back the false passports or the documents would be destroyed in flight.
Upon landing, the illegal immigrants would wait until the facilitator had left the airport before presenting themselves to the authorities and claiming asylum up to six hours later.
An initial investigation was initiated by UK Border Agency officers in February 2007 who then requested assistance from, and joined forces with, MPS detectives.
Intelligence gathered over many months led detectives to several addresses and suspects in the Colindale and Hendon areas.
On October 15 2008, Pezeshk was arrested as he got off a Eurostar train at St Pancras International railway station on his return from Europe.
He was carrying several credit cards which had been used to make a number of flight bookings over several years.
At his home in Southfields, Barnet, officers uncovered 15 stolen passports including UK, Greek, Irish and American passports and Finnish identity documents and driving licenses. Also further credit cards in Pezeshk’s Portuguese alias of Robert Santos.
On 21 October further search warrants were executed at Brockenhurst Gardens, Mill Hill and again at Southfields.
This led to the recovery of computers, and documentation, including worldwide Western Union credit transfers, and numerous other passport style photos. Amiralli, Pezeshk’s brother-in-law, was arrested.
The computers were examined and found to contain e-mails from clients in Iran, requests for assistance in Norway, hotel bookings in Greece and Italy, passport photo style images and flight bookings, covering a period from early 2006 to October 2008.
Financial investigations showed that cash sums in excess of £80,000 had been sent to 23 different countries aligned to the routes the illegal immigrants were being transported along.
On March 23, 2009, enquires led to the arrest of Ghulam Kiatavosi in St Johns Wood.
Detective Inspector Mark Chapman, from Operation Maxim, said: "This was simply not a case of the more typically observed method of smuggling people into the UK via the backs of lorries or in the boots of cars.
"These men adopted cyber methods to make use of the internet ticketing systems. Using false credit cards, names and addresses and providing identity documents forged in the UK the network sought to circumvent the security measures in place that help secure our borders and evade detection. In this they failed and were caught.
"The success of this operation, which demonstrably has shut down an entire illegal conduit into the UK, highlights the continuing work of the MPS’s Operation Maxim, and its successful partnership work with the UK Border Agency.
"It provides added reassurance to the public that the MPS and its partners, including the airline industry, remain fully committed to tackling the organised gangs seeking to profit from immigration crime. The actions of these people damage the standing of genuine asylum claimants."
Geoff Hicks, assistant director for the UK Border Agency, said: "This prosecution shows how the UK Border Agency – thanks to closer links with the Metropolitan Police and other agencies – is making this country a more hostile place for people traffickers.
"Thanks to the dedication and perseverance of UK Border Agency and Metropolitan Police officers this sophisticated gang – which showed no respect for the laws of the UK – is behind bars."