European police break up jet-setting migrant smuggling route
ROME (AP) — Police in Italy and Belgium have arrested five people accused of smuggling migrants carrying fake diplomatic passports into Europe aboard luxury jets, Italian police said Thursday.
Migrants paid up to 10,000 euros (dollars) each to be flown from Turkey into European countries aboard jets that the smugglers fraudulently booked for diplomats, said Costantino Scuderi, police chief in the southern Italian city of Bari.
At least five such flights were made between October and December 2020, transporting the migrants to five separate countries. One flight landed in Bari in November 2020.
The migrants were mostly Kurds or Iraqi citizens carrying counterfeit diplomatic documents from St. Kitts & Nevis, and flight plans indicated the Caribbean nation as the final destination after layovers in Europe. Once they arrived in Europe, however, the passengers declared their real nationalities and requested asylum, according to Italian police.
The smuggling operation was headed by an Egyptian man living in Brussels who is also a pilot. He was arrested on Wednesday in Brussels along with a Tunisian woman, while two of his brothers were arrested in Rome with an Italian suspect.
Italian police said the arrests were the culmination of an investigation involving police in Germany, France and Austria, in addition to Italy and Belgium, coordinated by Europol, with the cooperation of U.S. Homeland Security.