Leyton News

Leyton men convicted for role in people smuggling

Myrteza Hilaj and Kreshnik Kadena arranged at least nine migrant journeys in the UK via lorries and small aircraft in 2016 and 2017

(Left) Myrteza Hilaj, head of Albanian multi-national crime group, and Kreshnik Kadena (right), Credit: NCA

Two Leyton men who arranged for migrants to be smuggled into the UK using lorries and small aircraft have been convicted.

The conviction marks the end of an eight-year National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation – codenamed Operation Micropus – into an Albanian organised crime group involved in facilitating illegal migration, money laundering, drug trafficking and the supply of counterfeit documents.

Albanian nationals Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, were behind at least nine migrant journeys in 2016 and 2017, three of which were via a light aircraft to an aerodrome in Essex. Hilaj was the UK co-ordinator for the multi-national organised crime group.

Hilaj and Kadena were convicted today (15th March) by a jury at Southwark Crown Court, and are due to be sentenced at the same court on 17th May 2024.

In 2017, NCA officers prevented and intercepted a number of crossings from Europe, working closely with French and Belgian counterparts. Many of the migrants had Hilaj’s number saved on their phones, and had either communicated directly with him or with common contacts.

Telephone evidence revealed that the pair were fixers for a criminal network that charged Albanian migrants around £10,000 each to enter the UK, and then helped those individuals establish themselves in the country. This included providing them with counterfeit passports, ID cards and fake utility bills.

Hilaj ensured that the vehicles transporting migrants arrived safely at a discreet location in the UK, dropped off their passengers and returned to their scheduled legitimate route without arousing suspicion. He was also in regular contact with the migrants before and during their journey.

Kadena acted as his assistant and was primarily involved in smuggling migrants using light aircraft. On 9 July 2017, he helped to facilitate a flight carrying an unknown number of migrants from Calais to Essex, travelling to Stapleford airfield himself to collect and transport the migrants from the airfield once they had landed. 

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A planned flight on 17th July 2017 was intercepted by French police before the aircraft took off from Marck airfield near Calais. Four migrants, including a child, were safeguarded. The UK pilot and facilitator were both arrested, the latter having been in frequent contact with Kadena. Both were charged and convicted in France.

The pair used light aircraft to smuggle people into the UK. Credit: NCA

On the same day, following the interception in France, NCA surveillance officers observed Hilaj and Kadena at a “fallout” meeting in a pub.

Hilaj and Kadena were arrested on 26th July 2017 at their home addresses by the NCA. Hilaj was found with a number of false identity documents which he planned to pass on to those he helped to smuggle in. On one of his phones, officers discovered messages in which he had corrected typing errors on false documents, as well as online searches regarding the aircraft interdiction on 17th July.  

Kadena was found with a small quantity of cannabis, as well as a security fob for the gate at Stapleford Airfield.

Saju Sasikumar, NCA Senior Investigating Officer, said: “This investigation has dismantled an organised crime group who not only facilitated illegal migration, but provided a complete service to those they helped into the country, ensuring they could gain work and access services illegally.

“Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA and we work tirelessly to target people smugglers here in the UK and overseas, who risk lives and exploit others in the pursuit of profit.

“Today’s convictions may mark the end of this particular operation, but our work to tackle the threat from organised immigration crime is only increasing.”

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