LONDON (AFP) - The UK's National Crime Agency announced on Wednesday (May 4) it had arrested the suspected leader of an international criminal operation supplying small boats to people smugglers taking migrants across the Channel.
The numbers of migrants crossing the busy shipping lane from northern France is at record levels, prompting a UK crackdown, including controversial proposals to send those arriving to Rwanda.
The NCA said it had arrested "alleged small boats kingpin" Hewa Rahimpur, originally from Iran, at his workplace in east London, following a joint operation by UK and Belgian law enforcement agencies.
It said Rahimpur, 29, was wanted in Belgium on suspicion of being the leading figure in a network that prosecutors there say is involved in "supplying significant numbers of small boats to people smugglers".
It tweeted footage of agents snapping handcuffs on the man as he sat in a black Mercedes car.
"Rahimpur stands accused of being a major player in what we would say is one of the most significant criminal networks involved in supplying boats to people smugglers," NCA deputy director of investigations Jacque Beer said in a statement.
"Many of the criminal gangs involved in these crossings are based outside of the UK, but where we do find they have a UK footprint we will act swiftly to disrupt and dismantle them."
Rahimpur is accused of sourcing boats in Turkey and getting them delivered to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
He then allegedly directed members of his organisation to take them to the Channel coast in northern France for use by migrants.
He will appear in court in London Thursday for the start of extradition proceedings.
His arrest followed close co-operation between the NCA, the Europol Migrant Smuggling Centre and its counterparts in Belgium, said the UK agency.
In West Flanders, Belgium, prosecutor Frank Demeester said: "The Belgian police and judiciary invest a lot of capacity in the fight against human smuggling, and we will continue to do so in co-operation with our partners in the neighbouring countries."
The NCA has repeatedly appealed to the UK maritime industry to look out for purchases of boats and equipment by organised criminal gangs.
"One of the ways we are seeking to disrupt these people smuggling networks is through targeting their supply of boats," said Andrea Wilson, the NCA's deputy director of organised immigration crime.