Suspected head of people trafficking gang is extradited to Greece

Jamal Owda

A Palestinian suspected people trafficker thought to have headed an organised crime group smuggling around 100 Syrian migrants a day into western Europe has been extradited to Greece after a long legal battle.

Palestinian Jamal Owda, 28, who was first arrested in Liverpool two years ago, only lost his appeal against extradition in May and could not be removed due to an asylum claim which has now been rejected.

Owda was held by National Crime Agency (NCA) officers on a European Arrest at an asylum seekers' shelter in Liverpool in December 2015.

He was one of 23 people arrested across Europe as part multi-agency operation led by the Hellenic Police.

Fifteen members of the crime group have already received sentences totalling 155 years and 600,000 euro (£537,949) in fines.

The Greek authorities believe the crime group, which had its headquarters in Greece, could have earned nearly 10 million euro (£8.9 million) since 2013 by charging migrants for transportation, forged travel documents and housing.

Chris Hogben, from the NCA, who is deputy head of the UK's Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce, said: "Jamal Owda is the suspected head of a crime group responsible for smuggling hundreds of migrants a day from Greece into western Europe. After losing his battle to remain in the UK, our officers handed him over to the Hellenic Police.

"The taskforce works with agencies in the UK and overseas to pursue, disrupt and prosecute anyone that preys on vulnerable people in order to line their own pockets."

The NCA-led taskforce, called Project Invigor, targets criminal networks behind people smuggling in the Mediterranean and at the UK border. The taskforce is primarily made up of officers from the NCA, Immigration Enforcement, Border Force, Crown Prosecution Service and the police.

Owda came to the UK in May 2014 and applied for political asylum after unsuccessfully re-applying for a visa to let him return to Greece.

At an earlier extradition hearing, he protested "total innocence" and expressed concerns at the poor conditions of Greek prisons if he was sent there for trial.

Owda was handed over to the Greek authorities on Tuesday and taken from Athens to Thessaloniki on Wednesday, where he will remain in custody until his trial.

No date has been set yet.

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