Two men have been convicted for their roles in a major plot to smuggle Vietnamese illegal immigrants into the UK in the backs of lorries.

The crossings, which happened in August and September 2020, were orchestrated by Hai Xuan Le, 33, a Vietnamese national based in Birmingham.

Phone evidence produced by the National Crime Agency showed that Le was part of a wider network of people smugglers, transporting people illegally from Vietnam to the UK.

Some of those making the trip are thought to have relied on a form of debt bondage to fund part or all of their journey, paying back the cost through working illegally in the UK, such as working in criminal enterprises like cannabis farms.

The NCA was able to find evidence of at least seven separate attempts to move illegal immigrants between the 19th of August and the 4th of September involving Le.

From his flat above a nail bar in Grove Lane, Handsworth, Le would use a range of different phone numbers, social media accounts and pseudonyms to arrange for people to be transported to pre-arranged pick-up points throughout Europe and loaded onto HGVs in France, Belgium or the Netherlands, using a sophisticated transport network.

The lorries, some of which were refrigerated, would then cross by ferry or the Channel Tunnel to Kent, where arrangements would be made to collect those inside.

Taxi driver Habib Behsodi, aged 41 and living in Chatham in Kent, was involved in picking up illegal immigrants and driving them to the West Midlands, as well as collecting cash payments.

On some occasions Le himself would travel down to accompany the illegal immigrants, sometimes using genuine and unknowing taxi companies to travel back to the Midlands after collection. Mobile phone data analysis was used by the NCA to map his journeys, corresponding with the movements of illegal immigrants’ phones.

Le was arrested at his home address by the NCA in September 2021, having tried to flee the property when he saw officers arrive.

He initially gave the name of Ho Sy Quoc, but through working with the authorities in Vietnam the NCA were able to establish his true identity.

Behsodi was arrested around the same time.

Following a six-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court both men were found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration. They will be sentenced on 21 February 2023.

A third man, Karzan Mohammed, aged 33 and living in Bolton, was found not guilty.

NCA Branch Commander Mick Pope said:

“These two men were part of a people smuggling network who were not just breaching UK border security but also risking the lives of those they transported.

“One text message exchange we recovered as part of this investigation shows migrants being referred to as ‘pork’ – which I think shows the callous nature of those involved.

“For them, the people they were transporting were just a commodity from which they could profit”.

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