A Belgian court has sentenced a Vietnamese man who led a human trafficking gang to 15 years in prison, after 39 migrants he smuggled to Britain were found dead in an airtight shipping container on a truck.
Vo Van Hong, 45, was found guilty on Wednesday of being the ringleader of the cross-channel human trafficking operation. In addition to his prison sentence, the Bruges court also ordered him to pay a €920,000 ($1.04 million) fine. It also sentenced 17 other members of the gang to between 18 months and 10 years for their involvement in people smuggling.
Some of the convicted had allowed their properties to be used as meeting points for migrants, arranged documents for victims, or acted as intermediaries. Six taxi drivers who took migrants to meeting points were also sentenced.
In the 234-page ruling, judges noted that the criminals had dehumanized the victims and charged them at least €24,000 ($27,000) for the trips.
Hong’s sentencing was linked to the discovery of 39 dead bodies found in a shipping container on an industrial estate east of London in 2019. The victims – 31 men and eight women – were all Vietnamese, the youngest two aged only 15.
The migrants died of suffocation and hyperthermia in the container, which arrived on a ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. Most of the dead came from the Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in north-central Vietnam, Reuters reported.
Last year, a British court also convicted four suspects in relation to the 39 deaths, sentencing them to prison terms ranging from 13 to 27 years.
Vo Van Hong was one of 23 suspects arrested and put on trial in Belgium after a police raid on several addresses in May 2020.