The container truck in which 39 Vietnamese were found dead in Essex county, northeast of London, United Kingdom on October 23, 2019. — AFP/VNA Photo
HÀ NỘI — The French prosecutor's office said on Wednesday that 26 people had been arrested in France and Belgium in connection with the deaths of 39 Vietnamese citizens found in the back of a refrigerated lorry in Essex, near the UK’s London capital last October.
Belgian prosecutors also confirmed the police had arrested 13 people as part of an investigation into the case.
The latest arrests were made after early-morning raids in France and Belgium as a result of a cross-border investigation supported by Eurojust, the EU's agency for criminal justice cooperation, and Europol, the EU crime agency.
According to a press release from Eurojust, 26 suspected members of a major migrant smuggling group, which transported mainly Asian refugees, have been arrested after simultaneous searches in Belgium and France in early morning raids on 26 May. Sixteen house searches were conducted around Brussels. In France, 13 individuals were arrested in the region of Paris – Île-de-France.
A spokesman for Eurojust said: "The suspects are allegedly part of an Organised Crime Group (OCG) that smuggles refugees from Asia, particularly from Vietnam, and that likely has transported up to several dozen people every day for several months. Prompted by the discovery of 39 deceased Vietnamese nationals inside a refrigerated trailer in Essex in the United Kingdom in October 2019, a joint investigation team (JIT) was created between Belgium, Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, Eurojust and Europol. Judicial and police authorities have since worked closely together within the JIT to map out the alleged activity of the OCG and to determine the possibility of finding cross-links to ongoing regional and local investigations of migrant smuggling activity."
According to documents of the prosecutor’s office, Eamonn Harrison, a driver from North Ireland, drove the container truck, which carried the victims, to the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium, where it was put on a ferry to the UK and picked up at the other end by Maurice Robinson on the early morning of October 23.
Apart from the two suspects, Gheorghe Nica of Basildon in eastern England was detained at Germany’s Frankfurt airport on January 29.
Another man, 22, was arrested in Northern Ireland on February 2 on suspicion of manslaughter and facilitating unlawful immigration.
On February 11, UK police revealed that the victims died from a combination of a lack of oxygen and overheating in an enclosed space, adding that further investigation is underway. — VNS