A taxi driver who smuggled Vietnamese people into the UK using a ‘conveyor belt’ of lorries has avoided jail.
Habib Behsodi, 42, was part of a gang bringing people into the country illegally in the backs of lorries across.
Intercepted phone messages show the trafficking network referred to the humans he was smuggling as ‘pork’ or ‘chicken’.
Those being transported are thought to have paid up to £17,000 for passage by entering into a debt agreement – working off some or all of their fee in places such as cannabis farms on arrival.
In December, a Birmingham Crown Court jury convicted Behsodi, and his co-accused 33-year-old Hai Xuan Le, of Grove Lane, Birmingham, for their roles in the cross-continent operation.
Both were found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.
At a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Kelly Brocklehurst, prosecuting, said: ‘The movement of immigrants was something of a conveyor belt.
‘As one set of migrants were either turned back in a failed attempt, or en route in a successful attempt, communications in evidence suggested that yet others were being queued up by the conspirators, in further arrangements to facilitate unlawful immigration.
‘The method of transportation involved taking migrants from a safe house in Europe, often it seems by taxi, to meet up with some form of HGV.’
The lorries, going by ferry or Eurotunnel, then arrived in Kent, with immigrants ‘off-loaded to drivers such as Behsodi’.
The court heard Behsodi, from Chatham, Kent, made two journeys, carrying two immigrants, first to Birmingham, and then on a second trip, to Wolverhampton.
Behsodi, who lost his taxi licence on arrest and now works as a delivery driver, had claimed to have made up to £250 per trip.
He was also ‘trusted’ on one occasion to drive a haul of cash back to Kent to hand to another co-conspirator, one of whom was arrested with £56,000 in cash.
The court heard that NCA agents, searching Behsodi’s home, found more than £23,600 in cash behind a kitchen kick-board – though he claimed some of it was birthday money gifted to his daughter, while others were from legitimate passengers.
Behsodi, a married father of a three-year-old daughter, was originally from Afghanistan but had come to the UK after persecution by the Taliban regime, the judge heard.
Barrister Danielle Barden, in mitigation, said he had fled torture, including ‘having boiling water poured over him by Taliban officers’.
Judge Dean Kershaw responded to that mitigation, saying: ‘He came here essentially as an asylum seeker.
‘Then involved himself in this, knowing what he went through and then didn’t care as to what others might be going through.’
Sentencing, the judge said: ‘The risks involved to those who are placed into vehicles, squeezed into the back and underneath of lorries – are enormous.
‘The only thing that is cared about is money.’
He told Behsodi: ‘These people were treated as commodities – but they were people, human beings.’
But the judge agreed to suspend Behsodi’s two-year prison sentence for 24 months, with probation work, including 200 hours of community service, after agreeing that jailing the household bread-winner would have a ‘huge impact’ on his wife and young daughter.
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