Migrant smuggler known as Scorpion arrested after BBC investigation

  • the author, Sue Mitchell
  • the role, BBC News

One of Europe's most notorious traffickers has been arrested in Iraq following a BBC investigation.

Barzan Majeed was arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday morning, a senior government official said.

For many years, he and his gang were heavily involved in the business of smuggling people across the English Channel – in boats and lorries.

The BBC tracked down Majeed – also known as the Scorpion – in the city of Sulaymaniyah, where he said he had transported thousands of migrants across the Channel.

“Maybe a thousand, maybe 10,000. I don't know, I haven't counted,” he said.

A senior member of the Kurdistan Regional Government said officials were able to use BBC findings to find Majeed.

“The arrest was made outside his house at 7 am today. They arrested him as he stepped out of the house and arrested him without much trouble,” the official said.

“Now we are looking at the allegations against him here first, and then we will talk to the European police and prosecutors who want to question him and deal with him.”

Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) has also confirmed this arrest.

“We are grateful to the BBC for highlighting her case, and are committed to doing everything we can to stop and dismantle the criminal networks involved in people-trafficking into the UK,” she said in a statement. are, wherever they work,” he said in a statement.

Between 2016 and 2021, the Scorpion gang is believed to have controlled the people-smuggling trade between Europe and the UK.

A two-year international police operation resulted in the conviction of 26 gang members in courts in the UK, France and Belgium.

But the scorpion himself escaped capture and ran away.

In his absence, he was tried in a Belgian court and found guilty of 121 counts of people-trafficking. In October 2022, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined €968,000 (£834,000).

image caption, Majeed was working as a car mechanic in Nottingham in 2012.

The scorpion's whereabouts were unknown until the BBC tracked it down.

In a call in April, Majeed appeared to show little sympathy for the drowning migrants.

“God [writes it down] “When you're going to die, sometimes it's your fault,” he said. “God never says 'get in the boat.'”

Finally he agreed to meet at a mall in Sulaymaniyah.

Here he denied being the biggest player in a criminal organization. He said other gang members had tried to frame him.

“Some people, when they're arrested, they say, 'We're working on it.' They want a lesser sentence.

Majeed then invited Rob Laurie, an ex-soldier who works with refugees and works with the BBC on investigations, to see the money exchange he used to work with in Sulaymaniyah.

“No one forced them. They wanted to,” he said. “They were begging the traffickers, 'Please, do it for us.' Sometimes the smugglers say that for God's sake I will help them. And then they complain, they say, 'Oh that, that…' No, that's not true.

Ann Lukovec, from the public prosecutor's office in Belgium, welcomed the news of his arrest.

“We finally have a chance to see justice done in this case, to face him squarely and answer for his crimes.”

BBC journalist Sue Mitchell and volunteer aid worker Rob Laurie embark on a dramatic hunt for one of Europe's most wanted crime bosses. Code-named Scorpion, he smuggled thousands of people into the UK and is on the run.

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