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A notorious people smuggler has been arrested in Iraq, the BBC helped find him

One of Europe’s most notorious people smugglers, known as the Scorpion, has been arrested in Iraq. His arrest came after Britain’s BBC investigative team managed to track him down, the station said.

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| Photo: CTK/AP/Muhammed Muheisen

Barzan Majid was arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday morning, the website said, citing an unnamed government official BBC News. For several years, Scorpio and his gang controlled much of the people-smuggling business on boats and lorries across the English Channel.

The BBC team managed to track down Majid in the city of Sulaymaniyah, where he confirmed to them that he had transported thousands of migrants across the English Channel. “Maybe a thousand, maybe 10 thousand. I don’t know, I haven’t counted,” he said.

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A Kurdish regional government official said they were able to track down Majid thanks to information obtained by the BBC. “The arrest took place at seven o’clock in the morning in front of his house. The police arrested him without much trouble when he came out of the house,” the official added. “We are now dealing with our allegations against him and then we will deal with European police and prosecutors who want to interview him and deal with him.”

Convicted in absentia

The arrest was also confirmed by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA). “We are grateful that the BBC highlighted his case. We remain committed to doing everything we can to disrupt and dismantle the criminal networks involved in people smuggling into the UK, wherever they operate,” the NCA said in a statement.

The Scorpion gang is believed to have controlled a large proportion of human trafficking between Europe and Britain between 2016 and 2021. Thanks to a two-year international police operation, 26 members of the gang were caught and convicted in courts in Britain, France and Belgium. However, Scorpio himself avoided arrest and managed to escape.

A Belgian court tried him in absentia for 121 cases of people smuggling. In October 2022, he was sentenced to ten years in prison and a fine of 968,000 euros (CZK 24 million).

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The Scorpion’s whereabouts were unknown until the BBC team managed to find him. During phone calls and subsequent face-to-face meetings, Majid showed no sympathy for the refugees who drowned on their way to Europe and the British Isles.

“God records when you die, but sometimes it’s your fault,” he said. “God never says to anybody, ‘Get on that ship,'” he added. At the same time, he denied being a major player at the top of the crime group; according to him, the other gang members tried to push him into this role. “A couple of people, when they get arrested, they say, ‘We work for him.’ They want to get a lesser sentence,” he said.

Belgian prosecutor Ann Lukowiak, who was involved in Skorpione’s conviction, welcomed the news of his arrest. “Finally, we have a chance that justice will be served in this case, that he will have to face up to his crimes and answer for them,” she told BBC News.

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