Two Iraqi people traffickers who preyed on the misery of vulnerable migrants have been attempting to exploit European human rights laws to stay in the UK and dodge justice.
The pair, one of whom has leave to remain in the UK and has been here for 15 years, were sentenced in a Belgian court in their absence to a total of 22 years imprisonment and fined more than £1.6 million.
Basak Ahmed Sleman, 33, and Shamal Zorab, 37, belong to a gang of Kurdish people smugglers who charge desperate migrants thousands of pounds in return for sneaking them into Britain.
The pair were convicted of a sophisticated smuggling racket which involved loading ten refugees a night into overcrowded trucks, which drove around the clock five days a week to carry out 129 journeys.
They were rearrested yesterday after Belgian prosecutors issued European Arrest Warrants in their names.
The pair were already facing extradition following their conviction by a court in Belgium at the end of last month and appeared in custody at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today, where they attempted to fight against their extradition.
But rejecting their pleas deputy chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said: “The offence in each European Arrest Warrant is that of being a member of a sophisticated gang of people smugglers who took some 1,290 people from Belgium to the United Kingdom.
“The people the organisation smuggled included young children who were sometimes exposed to unsafe conditions in lorries.
“Having considered the warrants I find they are valid and that the offences set out are extradition offences.
“I order the extradition of Mr Sleman and Mr Zorab to Belgium.”
Zorab was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and fined just over £1million, while Sleman was jailed for ten years and fined £700,000.
They have seven days to appeal their extradition, which neither’s defence would comment on.
The court heard how they belong to a Kurdish criminal outfit, which exploits asylum seekers fleeing war and humanitarian crises, by loading lorries with ten migrants and ferrying them across borders in a period of eight months.
After their arrest on Wednesday morning the pair’s lawyers tried to get the extradition process halted by claiming the CPS had committed an “abuse of process”, so they should stay in England.
They argued the decision to issue a second warrant for the pair – they were already sought for appearance at the trial which they dodged – was not legally sound.
Sleman, wearing a red T-shirt and his short black hair gelled, and Zorab, in a black tracksuit top, did not speak throughout the hearing but a loved one sobbed in the public gallery.
Both will now return to Belgium and could face a retrial to clear their names.
The court previously heard that Sleman would use Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to a family life, in a bid to stay in the UK.
Zorab was arrested in Eccles, Manchester, while Sleman was arrested in Birmingham in part of the international operation in January.