Gang who tried to smuggle 69 migrants into Norfolk coast convicted
- Credit: National Crime Agency
A people smuggling gang which plotted to smuggle hundreds of migrants into the UK on a "death trap" boat via the Norfolk coast has been convicted.
Igor Kosyi, aged 56, Alexsandrs Gulpe, 44, from Latvia, Kfir Ivgi, 39, an Israeli national living in Finchley, Sergejs Kuliss, 32, a Latvian National living in Newham, London, were found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.
The gang went on trial at Chelmsford Crown Court and were convicted by a jury on Wednesday.
The group attempted to use a dilapidated fishing vessel to bring 69 Albanian migrants from the Ostend area of Belgium but were intercepted off the Norfolk coast on November 17, 2020.
The 30-metre converted trawler 'Svanic' was heading towards Great Yarmouth when it was stopped in an operation involving the National Crime Agency, Border Force, HM Coastguard, Immigration Enforcement and Essex police.
The vessel was then escorted into Harwich International port and the three crew members, Kosyi, Gulpe and Volodymyr Mykhailov, 49, from Ukraine were arrested. The 69 migrants were handed to Immigration Enforcement.
It is thought they planned to bring in 50 more people every week, using a boat that was built nearly 60 years ago and that had a lifeboat for just 20 people.
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The NCA had been alerted to the vessel by the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC) in Lisbon after it received reports from Swedish authorities that the boat was behaving suspiciously after it ran aground 15 days prior before picking up the migrants.
The boat, purchased for 20,000 Euros in October 2020, ran aground for a second time before collecting the migrants in Belgium.
NCA investigators seized a laptop from the vessel, which allowed them to identify the UK-based gang who had orchestrated the attempt.
The computer had been given to the crew by Kuliss and phone evidence showed he was in Great Yarmouth on the night of the smuggling attempt, awaiting its arrival.
Throughout the day, Kuliss had been in contact with fellow conspirators Ivgi, and Lithuanian national Arturas Jusas, 35, who was living in Lambeth, London.
Messages found on their phones showed the men had been discussing plans to invest in a boat for the purpose of smuggling people.
In one audio message found on Jusas' phone, Jusas boasted to Ivgi that he planned to "bring every week 50 people".
Other messages also showed contact with people 'on the other side' who wanted to move migrants to the UK.
After scoping out potential landing sites, they settled on Great Yarmouth.
Jusas, Ivgi and Kuliss were arrested during a series of NCA raids in June this year, after investigators pieced together their involvement in the plot.
Jusas pleaded guilty at Chelmsford Crown Court on August 6. Ivgi, Kuliss, Gulpe and Kosyi were found guilty after an eight-week trial Wednesday, exactly a year since the boat was intercepted.
Mykhailov was found not guilty.
NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said: “There is no stronger example of how organised criminals are prepared to risk the lives of the people they smuggle for profit.
“The Svanic was in an appalling condition, and in no fit state to make the perilous journey from Belgium to the UK. Had it got into trouble, the consequences could have been fatal as there was only one lifeboat and 21 lifejackets.
“The dangers wouldn’t have crossed the minds of these men, whose sole motive was to line their pockets. They were planning to use this deathtrap over and over again.
“Cases like these strengthen our resolve to come down hard on the organised criminals behind people smuggling, who ply their trade on exploitation and misery.”
David Fairclough, deputy director, Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigation, said: “These callous criminals had big plans to orchestrate a lucrative criminal operation at the expense of people’s safety using an unseaworthy vessel with only 20 lifejackets onboard.
“It is sickening that criminal gangs like this have no regard for the value of human life only seeing them as a way to make money."