An alleged “right-hand man” in a people-trafficking gang offered money to the families of migrants who drowned trying to cross the Channel in a dinghy to stay silent, a court has heard.
Harem Ahmed Abwbaker, 32, was alleged to be one of two main figures in an organised criminal gang thought to be connected to the crossing which resulted in the deaths of more than 20 people last winter.
The National Crime Agency (NCA), which has said he will face charges of the “French equivalent of manslaughter” and facilitating illegal immigration, gave the figure for the number of dead as 27, but the court heard 25 bodies had been recovered by the French navy when the boat capsized.
Just two of the migrants on board survived. Four people are still missing, the NCA said.
The 32-year-old is accused of being a member of an organised crime gang behind the crossing in November 2021. He appeared at Westminster magistrates court on Wednesday where he stated that he did not consent to his extradition to France. An arrest warrant has been issued by French judicial authorities.
The senior district judge, Paul Goldspring, described the case as “very serious and high-profile”.
Abwbaker, balding and unshaven, was dressed in a grey sweatshirt and dark trousers. He gave his address as a hotel in Cheltenham and has an asylum application lodged in the UK, the court heard. His nationality was not given during the hearing, but he spoke through a Kurdish-Sorani interpreter.
Outlining the case, Michael McHardy, the lawyer for the CPS, said an accusation warrant had been issued for seven offences dated between 2018 and June this year. He said Abwbaker was allegedly the “right-hand man to the leader of an organised criminal gang involved in people trafficking”.
Survivors and bereaved relatives helped to identify Abwbaker, the court heard. Those who crossed the Channel in the dinghy that deflated and capsized had paid smugglers $3,200 to cross.
The court heard that Abwbaker was specifically responsible for getting the passengers on to the boat and had been in contact with victims’ families after the mass drowning, offering them money to stay silent.
The dinghy used for the crossing was totally unsuitable for the journey, poorly designed and lacking in navigational or life-saving equipment, the court heard. Abwbaker’s phone was tracked to the beach where the crossing began, and two days later to Germany.
Bail was opposed on the grounds that the accused might once again try to interfere with witnesses.
A further hearing will take place via video link on 29 December. The full extradition hearing is scheduled for 3 April 2023.