A man suspected of being the leading figure in an organised crime group supplying significant numbers of small boats to people smugglers has been arrested by the National Crime Agency.

29-year-old Hewa Rahimpur, originally from Iran but now living in Ilford, was detained in an NCA operation in Wanstead Park, east London, at around 1pm this afternoon (4 May).

Rahimpur is wanted by the authorities in Belgium, where he is suspected of being a leading figure in a network said by prosecutors to be engaged in ‘systematic human smuggling’ offences using small boats.

The joint NCA-Belgian investigation follows the seizure of a number of boats and outboard motors, found by Belgian police in the back of a car near the Belgian-French border in October 2021.

Rahimpur is accused of sourcing the boats in Turkey and having them delivered to locations in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. He would then direct other members of his criminal organisation to take them on to the northern French coast, from where migrants would be transported.

NCA officers worked alongside their Belgian colleagues to track Rahimpur down, locating him at his place of work in Romford Road, Manor Park, where he was arrested.

He will now go before Westminster Magistrates in London tomorrow (5 May) where extradition proceedings are due to begin.

NCA Deputy Director of Investigations, Jacque Beer, said:

“Rahimpur stands accused of being a major player in what we would say is one of the most significant criminal networks involved in supplying boats to people smugglers.

“His arrest today follows close co-operation between the NCA, the Europol Migrant Smuggling Centre and our counterparts in Belgium.

“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.”

Frank Demeester, from the prosecutors’ office of West Flanders, said:

“Together with smuggling of human beings by refrigerated transport, smuggling by small boats is highest on our priority list. 

“For us, this form of smuggling of human beings is the ultimate threat to life, so we do everything possible to intervene as soon as possible. Every crossing that can be avoided is a potentially fatal crossing that has been foiled. 

“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.”

The NCA continues to look at ways to disrupt the supply of vessels and marine equipment to people smuggling networks and target those who knowingly do so.

In March 2022 the agency reissued an appeal to the UK maritime industry to raise awareness of how they might be targeted by OCGs looking to source boats or equipment.

NCA Deputy Director of Organised Immigration Crime, Andrea Wilson, added:

“One of the ways we are seeking to disrupt these people smuggling networks is through targeting their supply of boats.

“Some of the vessels we have seen attempting the Channel crossing have been nothing short of death-traps, held together using gaffer tape and planks of wood.

“Sadly, we have also seen how these crossings have resulted in fatalities, which is why tackling this criminality is a priority for the NCA and our law enforcement partners both in the UK and overseas.

“I would also re-iterate our appeal from earlier in the year to those involved in the maritime industry, both here in the UK and on the continent. Please be on alert, and if you have suspicions around the purchase of the kinds of items that can be used in these crossings, please report it.”