An alleged ringleader of a people smuggling gang, accused of sending more than 30 migrants to their deaths in the English Channel, is fighting extradition to France.
Harem Abwbaker, a UK asylum seeker, is said to have charged the migrants $3,200 (£2,680) each for the trip in November last year.
Appearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, the 32-year-old was accused of putting them in a badly-designed boat with inadequate navigation or life-saving equipment.
When the boat deflated and sank in darkness two hours after leaving France – and all but two on board drowned – he allegedly offered their relatives money to keep quiet.
French authorities outline allegations
Two migrants survived and identified Abwbaker as the ‘right-hand man’ of the gang’s leader, according to an extradition warrant issued by the French authorities.
The document also claims he personally helped the migrants on to the boat and electronic data showed his mobile phone was at the launch site on the French coast.
The warrant states the migrants were powerless to respond to an emergency, and “had no chance of facing any event at sea,” Prosecutor Michael McHardy told Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Suspect wants to prove ‘innocence’
Abwbaker, a Kurd, was arrested in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on Tuesday morning. In court he gave his address as the town’s Ramada Hotel.
He sat in the dock in jeans and a grey sweatshirt, scratching his beard during the 30-minute hearing.
Asked if he agreed to be extradited, he said through an interpreter: “If I return now, how can I come back once I’ve proved my innocence? What you’re talking about is my life and my freedom.”
Judge Paul Goldspring said: “It’s clear he’s not consenting.”
It’s previously been reported that 27 bodies were recovered the day after the boat sank and four migrants were still missing.
According to the extradition warrant, the French Navy recovered 25 bodies.
Abwbaker did not ask for bail and was remanded in custody ahead of an extradition hearing in April. He will appear in court again for a preliminary hearing on 29 December.