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Illegal immigrant smugglers convicted

PUBLISHED: 10:57 11 October 2001 | UPDATED: 15:18 03 March 2010

A LITHUANIAN people smuggler was found with a list of cash owed by his desperate human cargo when police arrested him on the yacht "Marija" at a Suffolk harbour.

A LITHUANIAN people smuggler was found with a list of cash owed by his desperate human cargo when police arrested him on the yacht "Marija" at a Suffolk harbour.

Egidigus Rutkauskas had carefully calculated the debt owed by the 11 men and women fleeing unemployment in Eastern Europe over the Channel and had written down the amount they owed him for the crossing.

Law enforcement officers who detained the black market book-keeper at Suffolk Yacht Harbour, Levington, in May also found more than £3,000 in US dollars and a stash of other currencies. The 33-year-old claimed he had sailed to England from Belgium with his father-in-law Romualdas Janavicius to pick up a friend who had run out of money and whose passport had expired.

Denying all knowledge that those on board were illegal immigrants, he said Janavicius had duped him into the smuggling plot.

The seven men and four women hidden on board all came from Kaunas, Lithuania's second largest city, or from smaller towns nearby such as Joanava and Garliava – an area plagued by increasingly unemployment.

The 40-foot yacht "Marija" had left Belgium for the quiet Suffolk harbour on the River Orwell where the people smugglers thought they could offload their human cargo unnoticed.

Little more than a year before, craftsman Janavicius had taken the same risk further up the coast at Lowestoft and it had spectacularly backfired – but he failed to learn his lesson.

Both he and dad-of-one Rutkauskas were arrested in November 1999 in similar circumstances on board the "Marija" (in poor condition with no navigational aid or radio), suspected of helping eight Lithuanian illegal immigrants sail from Holland to Suffolk.

Rutkauskas was released without charge to sail the boat back home while his 63-year-old father-in-law admitted smuggling and was jailed in April 2000 for 21 months of which he served seven. The court heard that dad-of-two Janavicius had previously smuggled people into Britain on a boat – first two and then eight illegal immigrants.

Janavicius's experiences of British jail failed to deter him from the lucrative black market business of people smuggling however, for six months after his release he was at it again, this time using Belgium as a departure point to try and sneak Lithuanians into Suffolk in his home-made boat.

"Marija" was registered at the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda – one of the main transport corridors linking the East and the West and just 160 miles from the city from where those illegal immigrants detained at Levington came.

But though "Marija" called Klaipeda its official home, the vessel was last seen leaving the port on 25 October, 1999, with eight people on board heading for Britain. Once in Suffolk the following month, the passengers headed for the rail station, buying one-way tickets to London while their captains, Janavicius and Ratkauskas were arrested at Lowestoft.

Lithuanian newspapers wrote that police suspected the "Marija" was part of a much wider smuggling net, starting in the city of Kaunas. It is believed that the 11 detained at Levington and then sent back to Lithuania had tried to enter Britain before without success. Many of the group were in their mid-40s with a slim chance of finding work in their home city of Kaunas where the percentage of people out of work has more than doubled in the past two years to over 9 per cent.

Baltic seaports such as Klaipeda have a history of subterfuge and smuggling for many were used during the Cold War by the CIA and MI6 to extract and insert agents from behind the Iron Curtain.

Fifty years on, they have become major players in the black market smuggling of tobacco and people.

Last year, more than seven million bootleg cigarettes were seized by customs investigators at Felixstowe hidden among cargo bound from Lithuania, making the Baltic state the eighth biggest illegal importer of smuggled smokes via the Suffolk port.

And earlier this year, father-of-three Romualdas Knyza from Klaipeda (the same place "Marija" was registered) was jailed for 18-months for helping smuggle six illegal immigrants into Suffolk. The 45-year-old Lithuanian was seen with three other men mooring the boat "Tamari" to a buoy at Orford. Like the "Marija", the steel-hulled "Tamari" had set sail on its smuggling mission from Belgium.

nWeblinks

www.hmce.gov.uk

www.unhcr.ch/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home

www.hpyc.freeuk.com

nFacts

Trafficking in people is the world's fastest growing criminal business and a multi-million pound illegal industry.

Around four million people are illegally trafficked or smuggled every year according to the International Organisation of Migration.

Penalties for those caught helping illegal immigrants into Britain include a fine of up to £2,000 per person smuggled and up to ten years imprisonment.

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