Myrteza Hilaj, 50, of Leyton, east London, was jailed after being convicted of people smuggling offences

Two Albanian nationals who ran an ‘Amazon style’ fake ID factory and charged migrants £10,000 to be snuck into the UK on small planes and in the backs of lorries have been jailed.

Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, both of Leyton, east London, were found guilty at Southwark Crown Court in March of facilitating the commission of a breach of immigration law.

The pair used a plane to illegally transport economic migrants from northern France to an aerodrome in Essex, before police busted the operation after undercover officers photographed their ’emergency’ meeting at a pub. 

The NCA said at least nine journeys of Albanian economic migrants in 2016 and 2017 were ‘linked back mainly to Hilaj’ – three involving light aircraft and others with migrants getting in the back of lorries.

Kadena acted as his assistant and was primarily involved in smuggling migrants using the light aircraft.

Myrteza Hilaj, 50, of Leyton, east London, was jailed after being convicted of people smuggling offences

Myrteza Hilaj, 50, of Leyton, east London, was jailed after being convicted of people smuggling offences

Hilaj's assistant Kreshnik Kadena, 37, was also jailed - he was primarily involved in smuggling migrants into the UK using a light aircraft

Hilaj’s assistant Kreshnik Kadena, 37, was also jailed – he was primarily involved in smuggling migrants into the UK using a light aircraft

The pair were sentenced to a combined total of five years and two months prison, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Friday.

Their conviction followed an eight-year investigation by the agency, codenamed Operation Micropus, into an Albanian organised crime group involved in facilitating illegal migration, money laundering, drug trafficking and the supply of counterfeit documents.

The group’s pilot would take off from North Weald Airfield in Epping Forest, Essex, and fly to Le Touquet airport on the coast of northern France to collect three to four migrants to smuggle into the UK on each trip.

The pilot would then fly to Stapleford Aerodrome, also in Epping Forest, where the migrants would leave the plane and be collected by Kadena.

The Albanian migrants would pay ‘up to £10,000’ for transit into the UK and then ‘a few hundred pounds extra’ for fake documents, the NCA said.

After a police interception in France on July 17 2017 which saw the pair’s plane grounded, the NCA said Hilaj and Kadena, both in the UK legally, were seen having a ‘fallout meeting at a local pub’. During the trial Kadena had suggested this was instead his ‘birthday drinks’.

Hilaj, who came to the UK in the 1990s and previously worked as a restaurant owner and security guard, supplied the migrants with fake documents.

A false identity counterfeiting group provided Hilaj with many of these – including five individuals who produced ‘tens of thousands’ of such documents at a facility in Stratford for use in banking fraud.

Following the grounding of the group's plane, Albanian smugglers Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, held a crisis meeting in a pub - where they were recorded by officers

Following the grounding of the group’s plane, Albanian smugglers Myrteza Hilaj, 50, and Kreshnik Kadena, 37, held a crisis meeting in a pub – where they were recorded by officers 

A light aircraft flown by David Green, an Essex pilot, that was intercepted by French police at an airfield near Calais on July 17, 2017

A light aircraft flown by David Green, an Essex pilot, that was intercepted by French police at an airfield near Calais on July 17, 2017

He also sourced documents from a man operating a passport factory out of his loft in Battersea, London.

Hilaj and Kadena were arrested on July 26 2017 at their home addresses by the NCA.

Officers discovered messages on one of Hilaj’s phones in which he had corrected typing errors on false documents, as well as online searches regarding the aircraft interdiction on July 17.

British pilot David Green and facilitator Edward Buckley were jailed in France in 2017 for the light aircraft operation which ran from June to July in 2017.

The operation by the NCA involved a total of 27 arrests with 11 convictions in the UK, and nine convictions overseas.

The NCA said the operation that led to the arrests of the men ensured the ‘safeguarding of over 50 migrants’ who were prevented from coming to the UK via dangerous means.

It also involved the closure of four forgery factories, with confiscation orders of just under £1 million being issued.

The wider investigation by the NCA, not linked directly to Hilaj or Kadena, involved the seizure of four tonnes of cannabis and 30 kilos of cocaine.

Hilaj and Kadena were convicted after an eight-year investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) which also brought down four forgers running an 'Amazon-style' fake documents service. Pictured are documents seized from the site in East London

Hilaj and Kadena were convicted after an eight-year investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) which also brought down four forgers running an ‘Amazon-style’ fake documents service. Pictured are documents seized from the site in East London 

Sergiy Mykhaylov, a 43-year-old Ukrainian, ran the plant - which supplied documents for smugglers including Hilaj and Kadena

Sergiy Mykhaylov, a 43-year-old Ukrainian, ran the plant – which supplied documents for smugglers including Hilaj and Kadena 

Many of the migrants had Hilaj’s number saved on their phones, and had either communicated directly with him or with mutual contacts.

Police believe he was trying to recruit lorry drivers after finding a note he left on the windscreen of a vehicle at Thurrock services on the M25 which read ‘call me’.

Kadena acted as his assistant and was primarily involved in smuggling migrants using light aircraft.

On July 9, 2017, he helped to organise a flight carrying an unknown number of migrants from Calais to Stapleford airfield in Essex, where he arrived to pick them up after they had landed.

Another flight eight days later was intercepted by French police before the aircraft took off from Marck airfield near Calais.

Four migrants, including a child under 10, were taken into custody. A smuggler and the pilot, British architect David Green, were arrested and convicted in France.

On the same day, following the interception in France, NCA surveillance officers observed Hilaj and Kadena at a ‘fallout’ meeting in a pub.

They were photographed while wearing sunglasses and appeared tense. 

As well as Hilaj and Kadena, several people involved in the fraudulent production of documents were previously jailed as part of the NCA’s probe.

This included Sergiy Mykhaylov, a 43-year-old Ukrainian, who ran an ‘industrial-scale’ forgery factory in Stratford, East London, where he generated thousands of false ID cards and work permits for illegal immigrants.

When officers searched his home they found more than 3,000 identity documents, 3,500 passport style photos and 300 building work certificates together with £15,000 in cash and enough material to produce 40,000 fake ID cards.

Mark McCormack, of the NCA, said most of his customers were from Albania and described Mykhaylov as being ‘like the Amazon of false identity documents.’

He said: ‘His services spread rapidly by word of mouth – the organisation would provide cards to anybody. It is a very lucrative market.’

Mykhaylov was jailed for five and a half years after pleading guilty to a string of fraud charges in 2018.

Middlemen Genadijs Kalinns, 43, of Loughton in Essex, and Dymtro Mykhailytskyi, 45, from Romford, were jailed for six years and five-and-a-half years respectively.

Arsen Baculi, 24, of East Ham, was given five years and eight months for intent to deliver fake documents and possessing drugs. A fifth man,

Oleksandr Sukhoviy, 45, was jailed for six years.

NCA senior investigating officer Saju Sasikumar 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.’

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