MADRID: Police in Spain have smashed a gang of 101 people smugglers which was charging illegal immigrants more than £22,000 to reach Britain.
Officers arrested 14 of the 15 suspected members in Malaga but the alleged ringleader was held at London’s Heathrow Airport as he tried to flee to Brazil.
Nearly 50 Iranians using falsified Spanish passports they bought from the people trafficking gang were intercepted as part of the police operation.
Police also revealed they had arrested another 42 people, also in Malaga, for selling their Spanish travel documents to the organisation for up to £2,600.
The investigation leading to the mass arrests was sparked a year ago when four Iranians were stopped as they tried to board a flight from the German city of Hamburg to the UK, using fake Spanish passports and tickets bought in a Malaga travel agency.
Police say each suspected gang member had a set role, with some focusing on capturing clients and others specialising in putting the illegal immigrants up in safe houses while their travel documents were prepared and their routes into Britain finalised.
The suspected ringleader was held as he tried to board a flight to Sao Paulo in Brazil at the end of June in what Spanish officers have described as an ‘attempt to avoid police arrest.’
A spokesman for Spain’s National Police, which released footage today showing them seizing passports and other material including computers, two starting pistols and an imitation rifle, said: ‘National Police officers have smashed one of the main international criminal networks, due to the number of people trafficked, which operated in Europe and specialised in trafficking people from Iran to the UK.
‘The organisation used Spain, where most of its members were based, as a transit country.