Europol: 101 Arrested in Bust of Criminal Network Transporting Iranians to UK, via Spain

Published: 03 August 2017

Malaga Raid SNPTravel documents seized by the Spanish National Police (Photo: Spanish National Police)

By Kyle Mackie

The Spanish National Police has dismantled an international criminal network that used commercial flights to smuggle Iranian citizens into the UK, Europol announced Thursday.

The international operation was coordinated by Europol and resulted in the arrest of 101 individuals in Spain, the UK, and at airports across Europe.

The smugglers charged each migrant about €25,000 (US$ 29,616) for fake Spanish passports, travel documents and to arrange transport and final accommodations.

"The criminal group was perfectly structured and each member had a defined role," Europol’s press release said. Those roles ranged from "recruiting the irregular migrants in their country of origin, to facilitating the transfers, hosting them in safe houses in Spain, and supplying the travel documents."

Most of the arrests were made in Spain, which was used as a transit country. In the southern city of Malaga, police arrested 14 members of the network and 42 people suspected of having sold their official Spanish documents to the group for anywhere from €500 to €3,000 (US$ 592 – 3,553).

An additional 44 Iranians were caught traveling with forged passports at various European airports.

The leader of the group was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport at the end of June, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. He was trying to flee to Brazil.

The investigation into the Malaga-based group started a year ago, after seven Iranians were caught trying to board a flight to the UK from Hamburg, Germany, using passports traced back to the smugglers.

The group would temporarily house migrants in Malaga in a building with "several floors" reserved for their accommodation, the Spanish National Police said in a statement Thursday. They found seven Iranians staying there during recent raids, including a 5-year-old child.

Police also seized 40 authentic passports in Malaga – 30 Iranian and 10 Spanish – along with computers, printers, more than 400 blank ID cards, a luxury vehicle and various firearms.