A barber has been convicted of using his London shop as a base for a people-smuggling scheme.
Gul Wali Jabarkhel, 33, an Afghan who lives in north-west London, flew to Afghanistan before carrying out his plans, and even had to smuggle himself back into the UK, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
He then used his barbershop, Ariana Hair Stylist in Colindale, as a base for his plot, in which he was attempting to recruit lorry drivers to bring migrants to the UK.
He was among four men who were convicted on Monday after a trial at Kingston Crown Court for their roles as part of a gang of “ruthless operators who regarded human beings as little more than goods to profit from”, the NCA said.
Jabarkhel — who claimed he had links with Albanian criminals abroad — offered a driver £2,500 (Dh11,693) in September 2020 for each person smuggled in from France or Belgium, with payment to be made on completion.
He was reluctant to smuggle more than five migrants at a time due to the risk of detection, but wanted to secure an ongoing deal with the driver, who would make smuggling runs up to three times a month.
The first run was scheduled for November 9, 2020, which involved smuggling migrants from Belgium, but Jabarkhel abandoned it.
Instead, he and co-defendant, Baz Mohammed Jabarkhil, 47, of Mill Hill, north-west London, left the UK and flew to Kabul, Afghanistan.
NCA detectives worked to stop them returning, in an attempt to stop their people-smuggling plans.
The pair made repeated attempts to re-enter the UK illegally using the lorry drivers they had tried to recruit. A plan was hatched for this in April 2021, which they were to pay £7,500 (Dh35,078) each for.
They turned to fellow gang members Rehan Murudkar, 19, of Edgware, and Mohammad Rafique, 28, of Dollis Hill, both in north-west London, for help as they were both out of the country.
They arranged a cash handover at the London Gateway Services on the M1 to help the pair’s return to the UK.
Murudkar and Rafique were unaware they were being watched by the NCA and were arrested shortly after handing over the money on suspicion of money laundering.
The NCA said they denied being involved in the people-smuggling plot, claiming to be buying barbering equipment — but this was contradicted by texts and phone calls they had made.
Shortly afterwards, Jabarkhel thought he had finally successfully smuggled himself back into the UK — only to be arrested at the barbershop in July 2021.
Jabarkhil also entered the UK illegally two months later via a small boat and was soon arrested.
Baz Mohammad Jabarkhil, who pleaded guilty to illegally entering the UK in September 2021, and Gul Wali Jabarkhel who had pleaded guilty for his part in the conspiracy to smuggle Baz Mohammed Jabarkhil into the UK, are to be sentenced on June 1.
After the hearing, NCA senior investigating officer Chris Hill said: “They attempted to orchestrate dangerous journeys across the Channel in the backs of lorries where the risk of injury, or worse, were extremely high.”
Deputy chief crown prosecutor Kate Anderson said Gul Wali Jabarkhel had shown “no regard for potential risks to the migrants’ safety”.
She said: “The case presented to the court highlighted the defendants’ focus on transport, logistics and fee negotiations with the lorry drivers.
“These crimes are extremely serious and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure those responsible face justice.”