A London-based hairdresser has been ordered to stand trial in France over her alleged involvement in a human smuggling network bringing migrants to the UK in small boats.
Neda Amini, 40, originally from Iran, is accused of playing an “active role” in the network that ran the clandestine operation several nights a week over eight months last year, a London court was told.
French prosecutors seeking the extradition of Ms Amini, who lived in Bexleyheath, south east London, say she helped organise migrants and the logistics to bring Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan migrants to Britain.
Her role was said to include bringing passports and phones to the UK given to her by her France-based partner, Said Karimi, a lawyer accused of being the main figure in the smuggling racket.
Ms Amini claimed her partner threatened her but phone taps by the French authorities revealed she knew all about the operation, a UK court was told. French police said she was recorded discussing the risks of being arrested and how to prepare the maritime operation.
She was arrested in September following a combined investigation by French, Dutch, German and Belgian police. She has remained in custody since.
Ms Amini claimed at a court hearing in April that she should not be sent to France to stand trial because she was looking after her son, 18, and had medical issues that needed regular review.
However, District Judge Timothy Godfrey ruled earlier this month the importance of her standing trial outweighed the impact on her family.
Ms Amini, who had lived in Britain for 15 years after moving from Iran, faces up to a decade in prison for her alleged role in the plot. Two other alleged members of the gang had already agreed to be extradited from the UK to France.
The gang was said to operate from northern France, covering the coastal towns of Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk, the epicentre of the migrant smuggling crisis that has seen record numbers in 2021 take to small boats to attempt to cross to the UK.
The gang was involved in buying boats, moving migrants to beaches in and around Calais, giving them false documents and laundering “large amounts of money”, according to French investigators.
British investigators told MPs last year that migrants were being charged between £3,000 ($4,135) and £4,500 for a place on the overcrowded inflatable dinghies. French officials claimed the fares were as high as £10,000.
Some 2,000 people are gathered in northern France to make the perilous journey, a doubling of the number since March, according to The Times newspaper. More than 9,000 people have crossed to the UK with a similar number stopped by France.
Ms Amini told the court that she travelled to France twice to visit Mr Karimi and brought back the belongings at his request.
“She maintains she did not know she was doing anything wrong. Ms Amini says that back in the UK she helped people she understood were clients of Karimi’s legal firm,” according to a court ruling.
But French prosecutors claimed she played a more active role, including collecting money in the UK, getting in touch with other members of the network “or even by sending candidates for passage to her spouse so that he can take care of passing them on to the United Kingdom”.