Migrant drowning suspect is asylum seeker who 'offered hush money to victim's families'

Harem Ahmed Abwbaker fighting extradition over deaths of 27 people killed when their dinghy capsized in the English Channel

Harem Ahmed Abwbaker is alleged to be one of two main figures in an organised criminal gang thought to be connected to the deadly crossing. PA
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The “right-hand man” in a people-trafficking gang offered the families of migrants who drowned trying to cross the English Channel money to stay silent, a court has heard.

Asylum seeker Harem Ahmed Abwbaker is alleged to be one of two main figures in an organised criminal gang thought to be connected to the crossing, which resulted in the deaths of more than 20 people last winter.

A warrant for his arrest has been issued by French judicial authorities.

The National Crime Agency, which has said he is facing charges of the “French equivalent of manslaughter” and enabling illegal immigration, gave the figure for the number of dead as 27 but the court heard 25 bodies were recovered after the boat capsized.

Only two of the migrants on board survived. Four people are still missing, the agency said.

The 32-year-old is accused of being a member of an criminal gang that organised the crossing, which took place in November 2021.

He appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, where he stated that he did not consent to his extradition to France.

Mr Abwbaker, who gave his address as the Ramada Hotel in Cheltenham, has applied for asylum in the UK, the court heard.

His nationality was not given during the hearing but he spoke through a Kurdish-Sorani interpreter.

Outlining the case, Michael McHardy, lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service, said an accusation warrant had been issued for seven offences dated between 2018 and June this year.

He said Mr Abwbaker was the “right-hand man to the leader of an organised criminal gang involved in people trafficking”.

Both he and another person were identified by survivors and victims’ families as being leaders of the group, the court heard.

Victims each paid $3,200 (£2,680) for the journey, the court heard, and it was claimed that Mr Abwbaker was the person responsible for getting the migrants on to the vessel.

His phone was detected at the site of the launch on November 23 last year, the day before the incident, and tracked to Germany on November 26, the court heard.

The boat was described as “totally unsuitable” for such a crossing, with a lack of suitable life-saving or navigation equipment.

Mr Abwbaker contacted victims’ families after the incident and offered them money to stay silent, the court was told.

Referring to the warrant, Mr McHardy said it stated that the occupants of the boat “had no chance of being able to face any event at sea”.

The extradition hearing was listed by Chief Magistrate Senior District Judge Paul Goldspring for April 3 at the same court at 10am.

The judge told Mr Abwbaker, who was remanded into custody, that the hearing would go ahead even in his absence.

He told the defendant that if he is eventually convicted of the crimes of which he is accused, he could go to prison “for a very long time”.

Updated: November 30, 2022, 6:52 PM