Case 1. Smuggling ring across the Lybia-Europe route
The Italian police dismantled a smuggling ring controlled by an Ethiopian smuggler organizing the passage of several irregular migrants from Sudan to Libya.Footnote 11 This included their crossing to Italy and the eventual continuation towards other EU countries. The investigation focused on the structure of the smuggling ring, including its articulated transnational connections. Considering the limitations of the type of data avaliable, it can safely be observed that the smuggling ring was playing an important role in the business for many years. According to the investigations, the structure of the smuggling ring included a central core, active since 2006, which was buying “packages” of migrants (mainly Eritreans) to facilitate their entry into Libya and moving them to the Italian territory, eventually to Sweden or the United Kingdom. This core was in charge of the management of a smuggling business operating in Sudan (Khartoum), Libya (out of Tripoli), Israel, and Italy (Sicily, Rome, and Milan), as well as in other European countries.
Phone interceptsFootnote 12 allowed the identification of the core of the ring, which was composed by Sudanese, Eritrean, and Ethiopian smugglers, with a consolidated network of relationships regulated by mechanisms of trust and violence (Campana and Varese 2013; Gambetta 2011). The core was also in charge of the collection of the capitals necessary to develop the smuggling operations. According to the intercepts, the ring featured several intermediary agents with the task of providing migrants’ relatives with information on the advancement of the journey. The intermediaries, well known in the local communities, were also responsible for the business transactions, which were shielded through the use of money laundering schemes such as hawala. The main task of the intermediaries was to act as a link between the core and the operative agents, which were in charge of the organisation of the land passages with cars and trucks by arranging the routes for “packages” of migrants (up to 150 persons). The intermediaries were the only contact between the operatives disseminated all over Libya and the core of the ring.Footnote 13 It often happened that smaller groups of migrants were at some point joining larger convoys managed by the criminal group when these were already on the move in Libya.Footnote 14
The smuggling ring relied on Libyan transporters which were offering their services also to other migrants on behalf of other smuggling groups.Footnote 15 This system of procurement was financed by the core of the organization and dealt with the intermediaries.Footnote 16 The pressure to quickly collect money to avoid law enforcement made the smugglers often clash with a rival group of Sudanese smugglers trying to acquire a privileged position in the market. The peak of this conflict dates back to June 2014, when the two criminal groups discussed the suspension of the smuggling operations in Sudan for a month.Footnote 17
Part of the money earned was reinvested to increase the security of the operations by bribing the officials along the way as well as to pay a fee to the armed forces who control the area along the roads throughout Libya. Finally, according to the intercepts, a number of criminal organizations operating in Lybia joined their forces and capitals, and today human smuggling seems to be interlinked with other forms of smuggling and trafficking of numerous other commodities.Footnote 18
Case 2. Use of money service businesses to finance smuggling activities
The French police received a tip about an Afghan national, located in France, who was using money remittance services (such as Moneygram and Western Union) to receive payments from different countries (Afghanistan, Greece, Pakistan and United Kingdom). The average amount ranged from EUR 100 to EUR 300. A chain of other similar cases was discovered by an investigation of the French police, involving Afghan or Pakistani nationals who were receiving money from the same countries. The analysis of the French FIU allowed for the identification of suspect movements of money which were reported to the police. The funds were discovered to be joined in a single capital that was used for financing a smuggling ring (based in Sangatte, France). The supects were then reported to the judicial authority and found guilty for assisting the entry and stay of irregular migrants. A money collecting service business was therefore used as a system of capital collection for the human smuggling ring, involving the use of small amounts of money to avoid police detection.
Case 3. Major people smuggling criminal network dismantled: 103 suspects arrested across Europe
29th January 2013: 103 persons were arrested throughout Europe, suspected of being part of a large human smuggling ring facilitating irregular migration from Turkey and the Western Balkan region into the European Union. A joint action coordinated by Europol involved 10 European countries and EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo). Several people were arrested in Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey and the Kosovo region. The operation was one of the largest joint-enforcement actions at European level against a smuggling ring, involving around 1200 police officers. Searches carried out in 117 houses led to the seizure of over 176,500 EUR in cash as well as laptops, bank statements, telephones, and a semi-automatic rifle. In 2011, Austria and Hungary launched the Project FIMATHU (Facilitated Irregular Immigration Affecting Austria and Hungary) to tackle the facilitators of irregular immigration. The aim of the FIMATHU Project is to fight human smuggling rings operating via the Western Balkans and in other European countries. Since the launch of the project, over 7500 irregular migrants have been apprehended and 891 human smuggling episodes have been identified in total. These results have led to the participation of 10 new countries in the project: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland. The case above described a successful joint enforcement action of different countries paralleling their operations, narrowing in this way the possibility for a quick recovery of the criminal organization.
Case 4. France, Greece, Belgium and UK smash a people-smuggling ring during coordinated action
The 17 February of 2012 has seen the arrest of six people made by law enforcement agencies of France, Greece, Belgium and the United Kingdom. The operation, codenamed” Pakoul” after a traditional hat worn in Afghanistan, was the result of more than one year of international judicial and police cooperation aimed to dismantle a human smuggling ring. The investigation was carried out by the French Police (Police aux Frontières), and involved investigators from Greece, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom once the links with other Member States were discovered. The action started on the 14th February of 2012 at 07:00 (Central European Time), with the arrest of two suspects in France, two in Belgium, one in Greece, and one in the United Kingdom. From the following interviews, it emerged that the Greek individual was also the main organiser of the network, smuggling an estimated 5000 irregular immigrants over the previous 10 months. The smuggling ring, consisting mainly of Afghan nationals, also recruited Kurdish and Lithuanian facilitators. The fees were on average 10,000 euros and included transportation via Turkey, Greece and France to Britain, or from France via Germany to Scandinavia.
Several house searches were then conducted at the residences of the main suspects. The searches led to the suspected leader, which was arrested in Greece. Two suspects were the arrested in France, two in Belgium and one in Britain. The operation was supported by Eurojust, which set up a judicial Coordination Centre in The Hague. Furthermore, two Europol Mobile Offices were deployed in Lille and Athens to support the operations. Both Eurojust and Europol supported the analysis of the operation results to provide the best outcomes at the judicial level.
Case 5. A smuggling ring facilitating the irregular entry of migrants into the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom Police Force dismantled a smuggling ring that was facilitating the entry of irregular immigrants into mainland Europe. The irregular immigrants were smuggled into the United Kingdom by lorry as well as motor vehicle, train and light aircraft. The fee charged for a channel crossing ranged from GBP 3500 up to 14,500 GBP from Turkey across Europe, including the cost of transportation and forged documentation. The fee also covered the costs of reception and accommodation on arrival in the United Kingdom. According to United Kingdom Police Force estimates, around 20,000 immigrants were smuggled into the United Kingdom by this smuggling ring, which was using the following strategies of profit-maximisation to reinvest in the licit economy: the ring purchased a number of takeaway outlets, kebab shops, and a snooker hall. An umbrella of limited companies controlled on paper by family members and associates of the subjects was controlling these activities. A new limited company was occasionally created with new company officials appointed. The core businesses (kebab shop/takeaway business) continued to operate under the same premises, and the funds generated by the operation were mostly based on cash and therefore not traceable. The assets were also purchased using cash.The ring made use of multiple bank accounts to conceal the turnover so as to not draw attention to the volume of the funds proceeding from the crime. The funds were covered by several business, personal, and family/associate accounts to conceal the source. Money was regularly sent abroad to Europe and Turkey through money service businesses using the variations of names or fake identities, names of relatives, and multiple addresses. These operations also highlighted the role of intermediaries which, well rooted in the local communities, were in charge of money collection and recruitments. In 2005, 5 persons were arrested and charged in the United Kingdom for conspiracy to facilitate a breach of immigration law and ML. One year later, the subjects were sentenced to prison receiving confiscation orders for an overall amount of GBP 1,260,000.
Table 1 reports the presence/absence of the entrepreneurial elements in the cases analysed. The analysis shows that in all the cases observed the human smuggling rings featured a system for capital collection. All the smuggling rings also featured a central core of members in charge of collecting the capitals and coordinating the activities of the lower levels.
In 3 of 5 cases the rings were using strategies to maximize the profits, with a system of reinvestments into the legal economy through the use of limited companies (case 5), to acquire more sophisticated means of transportation (case 1). In one case (case 1), part of the earnings were reinvested to increase the security of the operations, by bribing the officials along the way as well as to pay a fee to the armed forces who have control of the territory along roads throughout Libya, or by using money collecting service business to assist in financing the human smuggling ring (case 2). In two organisations (case 1 and 4) social relations, and in particular mechanisms of trust and violence played a crucial role in securing the operations. In case 5, the ring reinvested the proceeds of smuggling by purchasing a number of takeaway outlets, kebab shops, and a snooker hall. An umbrella of limited companies controlled on paper by family members and associates of the subjects was controlling these activities. All the cases analyzed feature at least two different structural levels (core-operatives), whilst cases 1 and 5 described the presence of intermediary agents, well known in the local communities, which connected the core with the operatives, and systems of procurement of low level operations. These intermediaries were making wide use of their social networks to recruit new operatives, as well as potential customers. Finally, case 2 and case 5 show the presence of sophisticated systems to conceal the money flows, such as the use of small amounts of money in order to avoid the controls (case 2) or money service businesses using the variations of names or fake identities, names of relatives, and multiple addresses (case 5).