Brugge | A 45-year-old Vietnamese man was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Wednesday in Belgium for playing a leading role in the smuggling of migrants which resulted in the death of 39 of his compatriots in a container in 2019.
Vo Van Hong was considered in the Belgian part of the investigation as the leader of the organization having acted from Brussels, where at least 15 of the victims had been taken care of. The network of traffickers had two hideouts in the Brussels municipality of Anderlecht.
A total of 39 bodies were found on October 23, 2019 in the back of a truck in the industrial area of Grays, east London. It is one of the most shocking immigration dramas of recent years.
The victims — 31 men and eight women, aged 15 to 44 — were all from Vietnam. They died of asphyxiation and hyperthermia due to the heat and lack of oxygen.
The container had arrived on British soil from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, and an investigation had quickly been opened in Belgium to identify the relays of this trafficking in human beings who had acted from Belgian territory.
A total of 23 people, mainly Vietnamese or Belgians of Vietnamese origin, were tried in December 2021 before the Bruges Criminal Court.
Vo Van Hong was convicted of leading “a criminal organisation” in Belgium that allowed the smuggling to the UK of a total of “115 people” identified between September 2018 and May 2020, when he was arrested.
The sentence pronounced corresponds precisely to that requested by the federal prosecutor’s office in its indictment on December 15, namely the maximum sentence provided for these facts. Vo Van Hong was also fined nearly 1 million euros.
During the trial, the prosecutor’s office said it was “convinced” of its role as “leader of the Belgian cell”, which it had strongly defended, claiming to be himself a “victim” of the organization.
For the prosecution, he supervised the stay of migrants in transit in Brussels, and gave them, for example, “instructions on when to turn on or off their mobile phone”.
Two prison sentences of seven and ten years were also pronounced on Wednesday, the heaviest for Nguyen Long, a 46-year-old Vietnamese, considered the leader’s main lieutenant and who continued his trafficking activity for another year, until June 2021.
There were a total of 19 convictions and four acquittals.
Sentences of less than five years were generally suspended, whereas the prosecution had asked for a prison sentence.
Owners of hideouts, “intendants” in charge of daily needs in Anderlecht, taxi drivers, etc.: the accomplices of the network had also denied their involvement during the trial, their lawyers demanding the release.
The Grays tragedy cast a harsh light on the risks of exile via clandestine networks, also showing the total lack of scruples of certain traffickers.
Many of the victims were from a poor region of central Vietnam, where families go into deep debt to send one of their own to the UK in the hope of a better life.
In the United Kingdom, seven men have already been sentenced in January 2021 to terms ranging from three to 27 years in prison.
These include the men responsible for organizing driver rotations, part of the activity subcontracted by the criminal organization to a Northern Irish transport company.
On October 23, 2019, this firm officially sent “Vietnamese biscuits” to the British Isles according to the order form which had deceived the vigilance of Belgian customs in Zeebrugge.
In France, another trial is on the horizon. At least 26 people were indicted (charged) in the investigation opened in Paris in May 2020. Two large waves of arrests then took place simultaneously, one in Ile-de-France, the other in Belgium .