The UK's National Crime Agency said on Wednesday that it had arrested the suspected leader of an international criminal operation that supplies small boats to people smugglers taking migrants across the Channel.
The number of migrants crossing the busy shipping lane from northern France has hit record levels, prompting a crackdown in the UK, including a proposal to send those arriving to Rwanda.
The agency said it had arrested “alleged small boats kingpin” Hewa Rahimpur, originally from Iran, at his workplace in East London, following a joint operation by UK and Belgian law enforcement agencies.
It said Mr Rahimpur, 29, was wanted in Belgium on suspicion of being the leading figure in a network that prosecutors there say supplies “significant numbers of small boats to people smugglers".
The agency tweeted footage of agents slapping handcuffs on the man as he sat in a black Mercedes.
“Many of the criminal gangs involved in these crossings are based outside of the UK, but where we do find they have a UK footprint, we will act swiftly to disrupt and dismantle them,” the agency's deputy director of investigations, Jacque Beer, said in a statement.
Mr Rahimpur is accused of sourcing boats in Turkey and having them delivered to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
He then reportedly directed members of his organisation to take them to the Channel coast in northern France to be used by migrants.
He will appear in court in London on Thursday for the start of extradition proceedings.
His arrest followed close co-operation between the National Crime Agency, the Europol Migrant Smuggling Centre and its counterparts in Belgium, said the UK organisation.
“The Belgian police and judiciary invest a lot of capacity in the fight against human smuggling and we will continue to do so in co-operation with our partners in the neighbouring countries,” said Frank Demeester in West Flanders, Belgium.
The UK agency has repeatedly appealed to the maritime industry to look out for purchases of boats and equipment by organised criminal gangs.
“One of the ways we are seeking to disrupt these people smuggling networks is through targeting their supply of boats,” said Andrea Wilson, the agency's deputy director of organised immigration crime.