More than 100 people have been arrested in Spain after police busted a criminal network responsible for smuggling Iranian nationals into the UK on commercial flights, Europol said in a statement on Thursday.
The network, which operated out of Malaga, charged Iranian migrants around €25,000 ($30,000), in exchange for fake Spanish passports, travel documents, transfers and accommodation, according Europol. Both Spanish and UK police were also involved in the operation.
The leader of the network was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport where he had been attempting to board a flight to Brazil.
“The criminal group was perfectly structured and each member had a defined role, ranging from recruiting the irregular migrants in their country of origin, to facilitating the transfers, hosting them in safe houses in Spain, and supplying the travel documents,” Europol said in a statement.
The investigation into the network began a year ago after seven Iranians were intercepted while carrying forged and authentic passports attempting to fly from the German city of Hamburg to the UK, according to the statement.
An investigation revealed that the airplane tickets had been bought through a travel agency based in Malaga, which led to the discovery of the smuggling operation.
Spanish police arrested 14 members of the group in Malaga, while another 42 people, who were accused of selling documents, were also arrested.
Police added that 44 Iranian nationals were intercepted at different European airports carrying forged passports.
“During the searches in Spain, seven Iranian individuals were identified, including a five-year-old minor,” the statement added.
“Police seized various evidence, including authentic passports (30 Iranian and 10 Spanish), computers, printers, more than 400 blank ID cards, various firearms, €1300 in cash and a high-end vehicle.”
CNN’s Carol Jordan contributed to this article.