Alleged trafficker offered drowned migrants’ families hush money, court hears

An alleged “right-hand man” in a people-trafficking gang offered the families of migrants who drowned trying to cross the English Channel in a dinghy money to stay silent, a court has heard.

Harem Ahmed Abwbaker was 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.

The National Crime Agency (NCA), which has said he will face charges of the “French equivalent of manslaughter” and facilitating illegal immigration, gave the figure for the number of dead as 27 but the court heard 25 bodies had been recovered by the French navy when the boat capsized.

Just two of the migrants on board survived. Four people are still missing, the NCA said.

The 32-year-old is accused of being a member of an organised crime gang behind the crossing in November 2021.

He appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday where he stated that he did not consent to his extradition to France. An arrest warrant has been issued by French judicial authorities.

Abwbaker, who gave his address as the Ramada Hotel in Cheltenham, has an asylum application lodged 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 CPS, said an accusation warrant had been issued for seven offences dated between 2018 and June this year.

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

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 dollars (£2,680) for the journey, the court heard, and Abwbaker was alleged to be the person responsible for getting them 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 lifesaving or navigation equipment.

Abwbaker was allegedly in contact with victims’ families after the incident and had 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”.

Abwbaker’s extradition hearing was listed by Chief Magistrate Senior District Judge Paul Goldspring for one day on April 3 at the same court at 10am.

The judge told Abwbaker, who was remanded in custody, the hearing will 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”.