East London men jailed over Albania migrant smuggling operation

Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, both from Leyton (Met Police)
Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, both from Leyton (Met Police)

Two men who arranged for migrants to be smuggled into the UK using lorries and small aircraft have been jailed for a combined five years and two months.

Albanian nationals Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, both from Leyton, east London, were convicted in March after an eight year investigation.

The pair were part of an Albanian crime syndicate that was behind at least nine migrant journeys in 2016 and 2017, three of which were via a light aircraft to an aerodrome in Essex.

The National Crime Agency began investigating in 2017 and found that Hilaj was the UK co-ordinator for the multi-national organised crime group. Kadena acted as his assistant and was primarily involved in smuggling migrants using light aircraft.

A statement from the NCA said that telephone evidence revealed that the pair were fixers for a criminal network that charged Albanian migrants around £10,000 each to enter the UK.

Hilaj and Kadena helped individuals establish themselves in the country by providing them with counterfeit passports, ID cards and fake utility bills.

They were intercepted by the NCA’s Operation Micropus. Hilaj and Kadena were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Friday to three years and six months, and one year and eight months respectively.

Saju Sasikumar, NCA Senior Investigating Officer, said: “Operation Micropus has seen us uncover and dismantle an organised crime group who not only facilitated illegal migration, but provided a complete service to those they helped into the country, ensuring they could gain work and access services illegally.

“It demonstrates our resolve to go after all those involved in people smuggling, who risk the lives of others in pursuit of profit.”

The gang operated by flying from North Weald Airfield in Epping Forest, Essex, to Le Touquet airport. Authorities caught up with the pair in 2017 and arrested them at their home addresses.

Mr Sasikumar added: “Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the National Crime Agency, and our efforts are only increasing.

“Alongside our UK and international partners, we are working tirelessly to target those involved at every stage of the route.”