At the end of July, the United Kingdom handed over to Belgian justice a 29-year-old man suspected of being the leader of an international smuggling organisation, the West Flanders Public Prosecutor's Office confirms.
Since the end of 2019, vehicles with outboard motors, boats, or even life jackets had regularly been discovered in West Flanders.
After further police operations along Flanders' west coast, drivers and passengers of cars arriving from Germany and smuggling migrants to the north of France were intercepted. They were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 30 months to 12 years.
By investigating some 40 different cases, West Flanders' judicial police were able to identify a larger network of traffickers that often made use of damaged boats, old engines and unsuitable life jackets to smuggle migrants across borders.
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In early May, the suspected ringleader of the operation was arrested in London and was handed over to Belgium at the end of July.
An investigating judge in Bruges issued an arrest warrant for him, and the Council Chamber determined that he should remain in prison for at least another month.
Meanwhile, at the request of the investigating court in Bruges, searches were conducted in Osnabrück, Germany, which resulted in the arrest of 18 individuals as well as the discovery of 119 boats, 33 motors, and 967 life jackets.