Police smash rings that smuggled Moroccan minors into Spain

Spanish police have swooped on two gangs suspected of smuggling minors from Morocco into Spain. (Wikipedia Commons)
Updated 23 June 2018
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Police smash rings that smuggled Moroccan minors into Spain

  • One gang allegedly charged about €2,000 to smuggle a minor by boat from Morocco, a price that would rise to up to €8,000 if weather conditions were bad.
  • The group charged €5,000 to bring minors across on a jet ski and €2,500 hidden inside trucks on ferries. It is suspected of having smuggled over 100 migrants into Spain from Morocco.

MADRID: Police have broken up two gangs suspected of smuggling minors from Morocco into Spain on jet skis, boats or hidden inside trucks, charging thousands of euros for the crossing, Spanish police and Europol said Friday.
One gang allegedly charged about €2,000 ($2,300) to smuggle a minor by boat from Morocco, a price that would rise to up to €8,000 if weather conditions were bad, Spanish police said in a statement.
The group charged €5,000 to bring minors across on a jet ski and €2,500 hidden inside trucks on ferries. It is suspected of having smuggled over 100 migrants into Spain from Morocco.
Spanish police said they had broken up the group with the arrest of 22 people across the country, including three employees of a youth detention center in the northern region of Asturias suspected of helping the minors get documents to be able to live in Spain legally.
The authorities said they began their investigation after detecting a significant rise in the arrival of unaccompanied minors from Morocco at this youth detention center, who were all mainly from the same area near the Sahara desert.
During a second phase police broke up another gang linked to the first group which smuggled minors from Morocco to Spain by boat, but which also kidnapped minors who were brought in by rival groups and held them for ransom in forests or safe houses in the southern province of Cadiz.
“The criminal gang collected money by extorting the minors’ families in Morocco, sometimes using violence and threats, until they paid a ransom of €500 to release the children,” Europol, which worked with Spanish police on the operation, said in a statement.
Spanish police said they had smashed this second group with the arrest of six of its members.
The Strait of Gibraltar separates Spain and Morocco by around just 15 kilometers (nine miles) — a ferry ride between the two continents takes roughly 40 minutes — making it one of the key smuggling routes for illegal immigrants crossing into Europe.
Spain is the third busiest gateway for migrants arriving in Europe, still far behind Italy but catching up fast with Greece.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 22,400 people arrived in Spain by sea last year, nearly triple the number for 2016. Some 223 people died along the way.


Macron’s security aide charged over assaults caught on video

Updated 22 July 2018
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Macron’s security aide charged over assaults caught on video

  • The incident is the most damaging scandal to hit Macron since he took office last year
  • An aide to Macron and an employee of the ruling party were caught on video assaulting May Day protesters

PARIS: A former top security aide for French President Emmanuel Macron was charged Sunday along with an employee of the ruling party after they were caught on video assaulting May Day protesters, footage that went viral on social media.
In the most damaging scandal to hit Macron since he took office last year, Alexandre Benalla and Vincent Crase were charged with “gang violence,” Paris prosecutors said.
Three high-ranking police officers, already suspended on suspicion they illegally gave Benalla video surveillance footage of the incidents to help him try to clear his name, were charged with misappropriation of the images and violating professional secrecy.
The president has yet to comment on the scandal, but his office said Benalla was punished in May with a two-week suspension from active duty.
Yet Benalla continued to appear in Macron’s security details.
The opposition accuses Macron, who came to power on pledges to restore transparency and integrity to the nation’s highest office in order to ensure a “republic of responsibility,” of covering up for Benalla.
Benalla, 26, was fired Friday after video footage emerged showing him hitting a man at least twice as riot police looked on while breaking up a May Day protest in Paris.
Benalla, who was wearing a police helmet with visor as well as a police armband, was additionally charged with impersonating a police officer, as well as complicity in the unauthorized use of surveillance footage.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb is to appear before parliament on Monday morning, with some MPs warning they will demand his resignation if he knew about the incident but kept quiet.
After publishing the first video of the incident last Wednesday, French daily Le Monde posted a second video showing Benalla violently wrestling a young woman to the ground during the scuffles on a square near the Rue Mouffetard, a picturesque Left Bank street.
Just days after the May 1 demonstrations, which were marred this year by anarchists who clashed with police, Macron had tweeted that “everything will be done so that those responsible will be identified and held accountable for their actions.”
In a third video, published by the Mediapart investigative news site, police officers are seen kicking and punching the young man even after he has been immobilized on the sidewalk.
The man and woman seen in the videos have come forward and plan to testify, a source close to the inquiry said.
The government has been forced to suspend debate on a constitutional reform bill after a revolt by lawmakers, who have announced investigations by both the National Assembly and Senate.
“If Macron doesn’t explain himself the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen posted on Twitter.
“Why the devil did he insist on protecting a second-rank employee who should have been kicked out of the Elysee months ago?” rightwing daily Le Figaro asked in an editorial Sunday.
But ruling Republic on the Move (LREM) party spokesman Gabriel Attal defended the president’s silence.
If Macron speaks now, “we’d have indignant commentators everywhere saying his comments could influence the inquiry,” Attal said.
Adding to the controversy, Le Monde reported Friday that despite his suspension Benalla was allowed this month to move into a palatial mansion along the Seine reserved for Elysee workers.
He was also being provided with a car and chauffeur, the paper said.
Investigators have searched Benalla’s home in the Paris suburb of Issy-Les-Moulineaux, where a city hall official said Benalla was supposed to have married on Saturday.
The scandal could hardly have come at a worse time for Macron, whose approval ratings fell to a record low of 39 percent last week, defying analysts’ expectations of a post-World Cup bump.
“Macron defenseless,” the Journal du Dimanche said in a front-page headline on Sunday over a picture of the president and Benalla.