A Bruges court has sentenced a Brussels man to over 30 years in prison after he was found guilty of people smuggling activities by arranging transport of Vietnamese nationals.
The 45-year-old man, identified as a Brussels resident of Vietnamese origin, was sentenced by the Bruges correctional court to 37 months in jail, one of them suspended, Bruzz reports.
The man was brought before the court after police found eight Vietnamese people, including three minors, inside a van in a motorway parking lot in Oostduinkerke, near the coastal town of Newport, whom the man said he was assisting.
The man confessed to arranging transport of Vietnamese people from Brussels to West Flanders and to northern France since January, but said that it did not constitute human trafficking since he was only helping his country nationals, Metro reports.
Phone records obtained by authorities, who believe the man was involved in transporting at least 40 people, show that the man referred to the people he transported as “chickens” and to the vehicles used as “horses.”
The man’s lawyers said that their client had not “gotten rich” by arranging the transportation and that he was only “promised” €200 for taking the eight people from Brussels to Oostduinkerke.
Public prosecutors had originally asked for a total of five years effective imprisonment and for a fine of €64,000 to be imposed on the man, whose defence fought the charge of human trafficking, attempting to get the court to agree to charge him with assisting in illegal immigration instead.
The man’s conviction comes after 39 bodies, all found to be of Vietnamese nationality, were found inside a UK-bound truck which passed through the port of Zeebrugge.
The discovery of the 39 victims, who were found to have paid smugglers to organise their journey into the UK, uncovered the existence of a global people-smuggling group, after the truck driver appeared before a British court.
The discovery led authorities across the Channel to increase efforts to clamp down on organised smuggling out of Belgium, with the UK announcing the deployment of immigration officials to the port of Zeebrugge.