The head of a large-scale human trafficking ring, who fled the country to escape prison, was arrested at Manchester airport.
Tariq Namik, 45, owned a car wash business in Stockport and led a “prolific and sophisticated criminal group” smuggling immigrants from Iraq and Iran.
Namık was detained by the Manchester Metropolitan Police on his return from Turkey.
His group was first known to National Crime Agency officials when an investigation was launched in 2017.
The other four who helped Namik were previously convicted in December of conspiring to help refugees enter the country and jailed.
Namik’s operation involved smuggling people from the Balkans to France or Germany and then to the UK in trucks.
An incident led by the group in September 2017 caused nine migrants to escape from a Polish-registered truck parked in Skelmersdale, Lancashire. Another driver had witnessed their escape.
According to the National Crime Agency, one of the immigrants had dialed 999 to ask for help. The migrant group, including five children, was desperate for food and water and was subsequently hospitalized.
Other incidents involved the smuggling of migrants into the UK in the compartments of a truck cabin.
Records found on Namık’s phone during the investigation show that his operation charged around €1,800 (£1,548) per migrant.
At a hearing held in absentia in December, the court was told that smugglers often used complicit Turkish truck drivers to smuggle migrants.
Two smuggling methods were presented to the immigrants. They were offered to hide individually in the compartments of a truck or to be released after passing through border controls by larger groups of migrants hiding in the back of a truck.
Namık was arrested and charged in April 2018, along with two other gang members. However, he did not come to the hearing in December 2022 because he fled the country.
Richard Harrison, commander of the National Crime Agency branch, said: “Namik was a prolific human smuggler who put the criminal group at great risk while making a profit.
“I am very happy that he will now be brought to justice for the crimes he committed. Fugitives never leave our radar and I want to thank our colleagues at Greater Manchester Police who helped us ensure their swift arrest as soon as they set foot in England.”
The five gang members have admitted to the charges against them and are facing a total of 24 years in prison.
Namık, who will appear at Manchester Magistrates Court on Saturday, is expected to return to the royal court on Monday to be formally sentenced.