A Belgian national has been found guilty in a Dunkirk court of involvement in people smuggling and has been sentenced to nine months in prison, without parole.
Sylvain Delarbre, an entrepreneur originally from Brussels, first raised suspicions when he was involved in a road accident on the A16 motorway to Dunkirk, last Thursday. Having arrived at the site of the accident, which involved no other motorists and no injuries, the police noticed that the van contained semi-rigid inflatable rafts. Delarbre was arrested on the spot.
The subsequent inquest revealed that Delarbre had made around 20 deliveries of nautical equipment to coastal destinations, including Ghyvelde, Leffrinckoucke, Calais, Wimereux, Neufchâtel-Hardelot, Boulogne, and Berck. However, when the police questioned him, Delarbre claimed to have no idea about the reason for his deliveries or what the material he delivered would be used for.
Speaking to police whilst in custody, he explained that he had been contacted online by a person going by the name "Mourad". Although messages had been exchanged online and they had spoken on the phone, Delarbre had never met this mysterious contact. "He told me that there would be people waiting to take care of loading and unloading the van, all I had to do was drive to the GPS coordinates he gave me," Delarbre explained.
However, the court was unconvinced by his assertion of ignorance, saying that he could surely not be so naïve as to not realise that he was transporting material for migrants crossing the Channel. "Didn't you find it bizarre that in the middle of the night migrants handed you €500 cash through the window having made a delivery?" the judge asked.
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In his defense, Delarbre tried to assure the court of his obliviousness by blaming his lack of suspicion on sheer stupidity: "It did seem a bit strange to me but in my silly Brussels head I thought that I was just making deliveries, nothing more." He added that he had seen the contents of the van but "had no idea that it was forbidden to transport boats and that you could go to prison for that."
Yet the court was unimpressed by his defense and sentenced Delarbre to nine months in prison. In addition, Delarbre was forbidden from entering French territory for one year and the €3800 cash that he had at the time of arrest was confiscated.