People-smuggling ‘lynchpin’ spent illicit cash on £1,000 Louboutin trainers
A lynchpin figure in a cross-Channel operation charging £18,500 a head to smuggle people in lorries into the UK spent his illicit cash on £1,000 Louboutin trainers and building a house in his native Vietnam.
Hai Xuan Le, who lived above a nail bar in Grove Lane, Birmingham, was jailed on Wednesday for seven and a half years after previously being convicted of conspiring with others to assist unlawful immigration.
Le, who had himself entered the UK illegally, played a “leading role” in the global enterprise which was likely to have been his “sole purpose in being in this country”, prosecutors told the court.
The 33-year-old will serve half his prison sentence in the UK but is likely to face deportation once released, the court heard.
Judge Dean Kershaw, sentencing at Birmingham Crown Court, told Le: “The importance of protecting the country’s borders can’t be underestimated.”
He added that as well as the risks of bringing people into the country whose backgrounds could not be properly vetted, there were “huge risks involved to the individuals” being transported.
“It is sometimes the case they come in, as certainly on one occasion you organised, a refrigerated lorry, if not squeezed into containers, or strapped, sometimes, to the underside of vehicles,” the judge said.
“Whatever the method, it is in a circumstance where their life is at risk.
“You in August and September 2020 arranged for Vietnamese citizens to be brought in clandestinely.”
The judge said “harm” to those brought into the country illegally was a matter of common sense, referencing evidence – not heard by the trial jury – that some of Vietnamese citizens had ended up working at a cannabis farm in Redditch, Worcestershire, to work off their debt to the people smugglers.
He contrasted that with Le’s lifestyle, which he bragged about on social media, and the “substantial” amount of money he made out of others’ suffering.
The judge said: “You were using proceeds to fund renovations of a property and I am satisfied you had some of the trappings of this enterprise to make purchases including Christian Louboutin trainers worth about £1,000. And you seemed to revel on social media in that.”
The judge added it was a “sad feature” of the case that the peoole smuggled into the UK “seemed to disappear into the ether”.
He said Le helped orchestrate four successful cross-Channel crossings, and three that failed.
In total, all the attempts may have involved between five and 10 people being brought to Britain, although the judge added “it is clear there were more”.
He added: “When you were in the UK, there must have been people also organising abroad.
“There is no doubt you were central within this criminal conspiracy, and organised not just the movement of people but also cash.”
The judge also heard that Le’s only child was born in the UK while he was still locked up awaiting trial, and he had not seen the boy once.
Le was arrested after a painstaking inquiry – including piecing together messages on temporary so-called burner mobile phones used by the co-conspirators – by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
In December, a Birmingham Crown Court jury convicted him and his co-accused, 42-year-old taxi driver Habib Behsodi – the enterprise’s “courier”.
Behsodi, of Rochester Street, Chatham, Kent, narrowly avoided being sent immediately to prison by the same judge on Tuesday when he was given a two-year suspended prison term.
Judge Kershaw heard that Behsodi acted as the “courier” of a “conveyor belt” of human cargo, driving Vietnamese people who had just got off the cross-Channel lorries, from Kent to Wolverhampton and Birmingham.
NCA branch commander Mick Pope said Le showed “complete disregard” for the people involved in the criminal operation, treating them like a commodity and “happy to risk their lives in return for his own financial benefit”.
“Le was the lynchpin of a wider global criminal network, acting as a fixer to get migrants on to lorries and into the UK,” he said, adding that stopping people smugglers was a “priority” for the agency.