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Lorry driver transporting illegal immigrants for London people smuggling gang jailed

Vasile Balcovei, lorry driver for people smuggling gang. (NCA)
Vasile Balcovei, lorry driver for people smuggling gang. (NCA)

A lorry driver who smuggled migrants for a London-based people smuggling gang has been jailed after a National Crime Agency investigation. Vasile Balcovei, 49, from Tulcea in Romania, dropped two individuals he had smuggled into the UK at Thurrock Services in Essex in February 2021.

He was working for an organised crime group headed by Mohammed Mokter Hossain, 54, from Woodford Green and was sentenced 32 months in jail at Canterbury Crown Court.

Hossain, who was the main subject of an NCA investigation codenamed Operation Symbolry, was jailed for 10-and-a-half years at Snaresbrook Crown Court in June for directing a network which used complicit lorry drivers to move people in both directions across the Channel.

The Thurrock drop-off was witnessed by a member of the public, and the two illegal passengers were picked up by a mini-cab which was being tracked by the NCA.

Officers were later able to trace Balcovei’s lorry back to the scene but by that time he had left the country.

He was eventually hunted down and arrested in Romania and extradited to the UK to face charges in September.

At a hearing at Canterbury Crown Court on Friday Balcovei pleaded guilty to facilitating illegal immigration and was jailed for 32 months.

NCA senior investigating officer Chris Hill said after the sentencing: “Balcovei can have been in no doubt that what he was doing was illegal, and he stood to gain financially from his criminality.

“Complicit lorry drivers like him played a critical role in Hossain’s people smuggling gang, which overall was involved in moving hundreds of people into the UK.

"Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA, and working with partners here and abroad we are doing all we can to disrupt and dismantle the networks involved.”

Operation Symbolry has already seen a number of lorry drivers with links to the Organized Crime Group (OCG) convicted of people smuggling offences.

Another five mini-cab drivers are due to stand trial in January 2024 for offences linked to the network.

Anyone with information about this type of illegal activity, particularly lorry drivers who can be approached by organised criminals, should contact the police on 101 or the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111