How a 'family man' business owner smuggled migrants into the UK

How a ‘family man’ business owner who ran a car wash and cash-and-carry smuggled the equivalent of an entire town of migrants into the UK

  • Tarik Namik, 45, from Oldham, was jailed for his role in a people-smuggling ring 
  • With help from his accomplices he smuggled up to 20,000 migrants into the UK 

Neighbours on the red-brick Oldham housing estate that Tarik Namik had called home for many years thought of him as a consummate family man.

Smartly dressed, with a neatly cropped beard, Namik could often be seen taking his four young children to school or playing football with them on the communal lawn behind their modest home.

True, his love of designer labels did stand out in this low-income area, with its high percentage of social housing.

So, too, did his top-of-the-range cars, which he frequently changed — one minute driving a bright green Range Rover, the next a new BMW 5-series.

Then again, the affable 46-year-old was a businessman, or so his neighbours believed, even if those businesses were not as glamorous as his sartorial tastes might suggest — a carwash in Stockport and a cash-and-carry on a sprawling industrial estate just off the M56.

Tarik Namik, 45 and from Oldham, was the head of a Kurdish people smuggling ring

‘Business’ occasionally took him away from home, too, his wife Nashtaman told locals towards the end of last year, when they enquired why they had not seen her husband for some time.

As ‘some time’ tipped from 2022 into 2023, she said he was now visiting members of his extended family.

Which wasn’t, as they know now, the case. As of January and after two months on the run, Namik has been behind bars, jailed for eight years for his role in overseeing a people-smuggling operation that the National Crime Agency believes is one of the biggest it has ever investigated.

It is believed that Namik, with the help of a network of accomplices across the world, smuggled up to 20,000 migrants into the UK — nearly enough to fill a town the size of Buxton in Derbyshire.

Some were squashed into the back of freight trucks; others were sneaked through ports hidden under the wind deflectors above lorries’ cabins.

In all, it was, as National Crime Agency (NCA) Branch Commander Richard Harrison puts it, criminality on an ‘astounding’ scale. Namik was a kingpin in a prolific, sophisticated gang which sought to exploit the UK asylum system for its own financial gain.

‘We know from recordings we found on his phone that Namik was involved in the smuggling of at least 1,900 migrants through the Balkans and into France or Germany in one 50-day period,’ he says.

Only now, with Namik’s imprisonment — along with four accomplices — can the true staggering scale of his vast enterprise be revealed.

That enterprise covered a 4,000-mile network of lorries and boats, and involved millions of pounds changing hands between ruthless gangs. Transcripts of phone conversations recovered by the NCA between Namik and associates abroad suggested he received €225 (about £200) per migrant for the European ‘leg’ of the journey — a sum that would equate to around €427,000 (£374,000) for that 50-day period alone.

On top of this were sums of up to £1,500 per migrant paid once they were in the UK.

Underpinning those sums was — and is — a trade in human misery. While exact figures are impossible to obtain, it is believed that about 10,000 migrants a year enter Britain illegally in lorries.

Namik himself was just such a migrant. An ethnic Kurd from Kirkuk in northern Iraq, he successfully claimed asylum in 2001 and became a British citizen in 2010.

Around that time, he married Nashtaman Hasan, who is understood to be a fellow Kurd. The couple have four children under the age of 11.

The family settled in Oldham, in a three-bedroom maisonette beside a noisy car breaker’s yard. Namik presented himself as an ordinary local businessman — albeit one clad in a £500 Moncler bodywarmer and with a £40,000 car parked outside. ‘He liked the finer things in life,’ one neighbour told the Mail this week.

His ‘businesses’ didn’t withstand particularly close scrutiny, however.

Take Snacks Int Ltd, one of three businesses registered by Namik with Companies House over the years. The address in West Yorkshire at which the company is listed is today home to an accountancy practice which, this week, claimed to have no knowledge of either Namik or any business bearing that name.

Namik was also a named director of 4 Seasons Cash and Carry Ltd, which was based on a sprawling industrial estate just off the M56 in Wythenshawe, South Manchester.

The premises are now a mechanic’s garage and the current occupier — who asked not to be named — told the Mail this week that it had been raided by police before he moved in, when Namik still owned the lease, and around 100 cannabis plants were seized.

Namik also ran a carwash in Stockport — now abandoned — while his family home was the registered address of a third business, called T&N Transport Ltd.

Listed as a ‘road freight company’, it is perhaps the most obvious link to the ‘business’ in which Namik was really embroiled.

Exactly how and when he moved into people-smuggling is not known, but the authorities know that by 2014 Namik had become a significant mover and shaker in a criminal gang smuggling ethnic Kurds into the UK from Iran and Iraq.

Overseen by a network of facilitators, the migrants would travel to Turkey by car and from there to Italy or Greece by sea, in some instances crammed 800 strong in the ship’s hold.

Once in the European Union, they were taken in lorries to Ghent, Belgium, where they would meet a driver working for Namik who would organise the onward journey to the UK.

Misery trade: A lorry packed with migrants is stopped in Europe. Some of the people Tarik helped to smuggle were squashed into the back of freight trucks

Prices for the trans-Europe leg of the journey would start at around €1,800 (£1,600).

The next leg into the UK was more expensive, though, costing up to £8,000. Everyone crossed the border in the same way — smuggled in a compartment in the back of a lorry, or in the wind deflector on top of the cab.

By late 2017, the NCA, working with crime enforcement agencies in Europe, had established many links in a sprawling chain of connections which made it incredibly difficult to pin down the masterminds.

‘Organised immigration crime differs greatly from other forms of organised crime,’ explains Paul Morris, senior manager in the NCA’s organised immigration crime threat team.

‘These gangs aren’t like traditional Mafia-style crime groups, with a single ‘Godfather’ figure at the top of the hierarchy. They are agile, and their tactics are always evolving in response to events or to law enforcement activity.’

Investigators did manage to identify several ‘persons of interest’ whom they believed were working with Namik. Among them were Hajar Ahmed, 39, from Manchester; and Soran Saliy, 32, from Stoke-on-Trent — ‘connectors’ who organised the UK leg of the journey.

Habil Gider, a 54-year-old taxi driver, also from Stoke, was a regular escort, travelling from his home in the North West to pick up migrants (a role also performed at times by Saliy), while Hardi Alizada, 32, from Nottingham, was ‘European liaison’, travelling to the Continent to convey information.

By late 2017, two separate incidents had led to the net tightening around Namik.

In September that year, a driver spotted nine migrants — two families, including five children — being dropped in a lay-by in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, from a lorry with Polish numberplates, and called the police. Distressed, hungry and dehydrated, all the migrants were taken to hospital.

Then, two months later in November 2017, Gider was caught red-handed by the NCA while driving westward along the M26 in Kent. In the back of his car was an Iraqi-Kurdish woman, newly arrived into Dover.

Gider’s phone records led investigators to Saliy, Ahmed and Alizada, who was in France. Such interactions were vital links in the chain but not enough to bring Malik to book — although they were enough to put another operation in place.

On November 20, an undercover agent from the NCA visited Namik’s carwash and struck up conversation, making further visits in December and January to establish a relationship.

By this point, Namik had already found himself under scrutiny by customs officers, who had detained him at Manchester airport in early December as he returned from Turkey in relation to suspected excise offences.

Data downloaded from Namik’s iPhone contained voice and video recordings, some of which related to a dispute about a ‘debt’ owed to other people-smugglers.

A significant part of the jigsaw was about to fall into place, however. On January 23, 2018, the undercover operative returned to Namik’s carwash and once more engaged in conversation. This time, Namik asked him what he did for a living and the agent replied that he was a freight forwarder who on occasion engaged in illegal activity.

Their rapport proved enough for Namik to confide his own criminality. ‘I bring people over from France,’ he said. ‘I can get the people but I need the transport.’

Namik then offered the agent a deal: if he could load between two and six people into the back of a lorry, then of the £8,000 charged to each person to be brought into the UK, the two could share the remaining £3,000, once £5,000 had been paid to the driver.

The trap had been set and on the morning of April 5 — following two aborted smuggling attempts — NCA agents and Belgian police officers watched a BMW pull up to a lorry that was parked on the outskirts of Ghent.

The lorry was being driven by another undercover agent who then received a call from Namik. ‘The delivery has been made,’ he informed him. ‘It is time to drive to the UK.’

Swooping into action, Belgian police opened the back of the lorry to find a 14-year-old boy with a Turkish passport inside. Back in Oldham, Namik was immediately arrested, alongside Ahmed, Saliy, Gider and Alizada.

Their case arrived at court in August 2019 but, following a series of complications — and in part due to the Covid pandemic — proceedings only finally unfolded in June last year, by which point the five defendants had already pleaded guilty.

When they were due to be sentenced in December, however, Namik failed to turn up in court, having fled to Turkey. He was jailed in his absence for eight years.

Ahmed was jailed for four years and nine months; Gider for four years, six months; Saliy for five years, four months; and Alizada for 16 months.

Officials were frustrated but in early January, after Namik had been on the run for two months, his solicitor contacted the authorities and said he was willing to hand himself in.

He was met by officers from the National Crime Agency at Manchester airport and is now behind bars.

The whereabouts of his wife and children, meanwhile, are unknown: back in Oldham, neighbours told the Mail they had left the family home about two weeks ago, leaving a mound of rubbish piled in the garden.

‘They seemed really nice but we had no idea what he had been up to,’ one neighbour confided. ‘We can’t believe he was involved in people-smuggling.’

To what extent (if any) his wife or children knew about his activities is unknown.

‘It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the true extent of his people-smuggling activities,’ NCA Branch Commander Richard Harrison affirmed this week.

‘But if you take into account the length of time we suspect he was operating, you are looking at many thousands of people being moved illegally across the globe.’

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