People smuggling gang smashed

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A PEOPLE smuggling gang which charged as much as £30,000 to smuggle Indian nationals into the UK from South Africa has been smashed by police.

Details of the massive criminal network were revealed yesterday by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) after six people were convicted at Leicester Crown Court.

Reporting restrictions were lifted following the conclusion of an eight-year trial.

The trial heard Indian nationals were charged as much as £30,000 to come to the UK via South Africa.

The gang bribed Government officials in South Africa where illegal immigrants were given genuine passports.

They also bribed a passport checker at Heathrow Airport.

Once in the UK they stayed in a number of safe houses in London before finding work or accommodation in Leicester, Bolton, Blackburn and Preston.

The scam was uncovered in 1999 after police discovered a fake passport factory under stairs at a property in Leicester.

The masterminds behind the scam – Yusuf Mewaswala, 49, from Leicester and Harekrishna Maganbhai Patel, 38, from Brighton – were jailed in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

Mewaswala, pleaded guilty last year as part of Operation Coptine to people smuggling offences and was jailed for 10 years.

Patel was sentenced in 2006 to 10 years in jail, another deportation order and a £100,000 confiscation order.

Both men also had earlier convictions for people smuggling.

At Leicester Crown Court yesterday, Sajid Bhikhi, 40, and Asif Bhikhi, 38, both of St George’s Square, West London, and Soyab Patel, 25, of Boleyn Road, north London, were sentenced to five years in prison after they were found guilty of a conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry into the UK.

Sikander Patel, 36, of Osborne Road, Leicester, was jailed for three-and-a-half years for the same charge plus obtaining leave to remain in the country by deception and being in possession of a false South African passport.

Asif Patel, of Bolton, will be sentenced at a later date after being found guilty of the same conspiracy.

Sabbir Patel, 31, of Mallory Place, Leicester, was jailed for two-and-a-half years after he pleaded guilty to his part in the scam.

Munaf Surti, 30, of Halstead Street, Leicester, was found not guilty of being part of the conspiracy but was convicted of having a false passport and being in the country by deception.

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