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Exposed: Albanian people smuggler dubbed the ‘Golden Lion’ who makes £1m a week from his trade

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MPs tonight demanded urgent action to ‘crush’ people smuggling networks that make millions of pounds from dangerous channel crossings.

Their calls came after an undercover investigation in Monday’s Daily Mail revealed an Albanian mobster who openly ran the despicable trade in Dunkirk.

Nicknamed the ‘Golden Lion’, he earns an estimated £1 million a week sending migrants to Britain on flimsy dinghies.

He told reporters posing as customers that he could take them for £4,500 each and promised that the British authorities would give them food, blankets and everything they needed before putting them in a hotel. “After that, you can go wherever you want,” he said.

Nicknamed the ‘Golden Lion’, this people smuggler earns an estimated £1 million a week sending migrants to Britain on flimsy dinghies

Showing how easily people smugglers can outsmart the authorities, the mobster was picked up by French police hours after we met him – only to be released the next morning to resume operations immediately.

He’s just one of a series of well-organized human trafficking gangs we found in northern France – one of which has 600 people on a waiting list for places on small boats.

Our shocking research also found that gang wars — with frequent gunfights — are rife between rival traffickers who act like mob bosses vying for control of illegal camps and launch areas onto beaches.

So far this year, more than 32,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel in small boats – more than all of 2021.

Albanians accounted for about 60 percent of summer arrivals. The small boat trips are very dangerous and sometimes deadly, with 27 migrants – including children – drowning when a dinghy crashed off the coast of Calais last November.

More tragedies were narrowly avoided this month when dozens of migrants were plucked from the sea off Kent after a boat sank. Last week, a dinghy off Calais capsized with 57 mostly Albanian migrants on board, including 17 children, two of whom were babies.

Many of them required emergency treatment for hypothermia after being rescued by a French patrol vessel.

The Daily Mail found that the people smuggling industry is thriving despite the dangers and attempts to deter the illegal crossings – including the swift removal of Albanians whose asylum applications have been rejected and the stalled plan to send migrants to Rwanda.

'Road to England' photo from a TikTok translates as: Safe way Hurry, Hurry it's a good time and cheap price

‘Road to England’ photo from a TikTok translates as: Safe way Hurry, Hurry it’s a good time and cheap price

Dunkirk Place de la Gare – home to its train and bus stations – has now become an important stopping point for those heading to the UK, according to our joint research with the Albanian ABC News station’s Piranja programme. Budget hotels that surround the square are full of migrants waiting for a boat, while taxi drivers offer a 30 euro special to take you to an illegal camp. The wave of Albanian migrants means that some shops and cafes in Dunkirk are now opening on Sundays to serve the extra customers.

In a cafe overlooking the train station, our reporters were introduced to the ‘Golden Lion’, which is native to Vlore in southern Albania.

Another migrant from Has in northern Albania, who himself was waiting for a boat to England, told our reporter about him: ‘He will find you because he is picking up Albanians for England.

“He spends all the time in the square and takes them to the hotel where he’s staying.”

Within five minutes, the trafficker passed by with a friend on his way to the nearby hotel Le Lion d’Or where he is located and from which he takes his nickname.

Wearing shorts, flip flops and a Hugo Boss T-shirt, he told reporters – posing as a young couple hoping to come to England – that he could get places on a boat for less than £9,000 if the got better again.

He said, ‘I’ll let you know. I’ll send a message as soon as I know. I pray to God to make this possible. The weather is the problem. Me and others are not the problem.’

'Road to England' still from a TikTok translates as: tomorrow departure, hurry, book privately from Dunkirk

‘Road to England’ still from a TikTok translates as: tomorrow departure, hurry, book privately from Dunkirk

The next day, now dressed in an Armani T-shirt, he met for coffee at a cafe in the square. Despite the enormous risk of sinking, the trafficker insisted that there was “no chance” that anything would go wrong. “Suppose someone drowns in the sea, then you don’t just have a problem with the state,” he said.

“The biggest problem lies with that person’s family. No one will forgive you for that.

“People on the boat call their relatives and then they call the British police to get you. So fast [as] you cross the water, they will feed you, everything. When people are cold, they give them blankets.

“Then they’ll drop you off at a camp. It will take a day or two for them to register you and see if you are a wanted person and then they release you and send you to a hotel.

‘After that you can go wherever you want. They can keep you in camp for five days or two hours. Yesterday a family was released after two hours. You are with your wife and I believe they will let you go soon.”

The trafficker, who uses a mobile phone registered in Spain, comes and goes from Dunkirk to avoid detection. Cash for the trips should be paid to his employee in London, rather than handed over in France, he explained.

After a few minutes with our reporters, he had to move on to speak to some of his other customers who were seated at the adjacent table in the cafe.

Hours after the meeting, he was taken by the police in a roundup of all Albanians who were in the cafe at the time – except one who was sitting on the toilet. But the next morning the ‘Golden Lion’ was out and working again.

“They can’t do anything because I have the documents to stay here,” he said in a WhatsApp message.

Since they come from an EU candidate country, Albanians are free to enter France and stay for 90 days without a visa. Other traffickers operate from a migrant camp just outside Dunkirk, which often descends into violence amid a power struggle for control of the human trafficking. Migrants who connect through social media ads must stay in the section run by their own trafficker or else ‘trouble’ will arise.

Migrants walk back to camp after visiting the supermarket in Grand-Synthe, Dunkerque

Migrants walk back to camp after visiting the supermarket in Grand-Synthe, Dunkerque

Commenting on our undercover investigation, Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, said: ‘It shows without a doubt how criminals are exploiting the canal migrant crisis to fuel their illegal operations in the UK.

This underscores once again the urgent need to work with France to prevent the small boats from leaving France’s shores, to deal with ruthless criminals and to end the disgusting exploitation that continues. No ifs or buts, action must be taken now.’

Alp Mehmet of Migration Watch UK said: ‘Congratulations to the Daily Mail, what great investigative reporting.

It is also a timely reminder of the magnitude of the problem facing the new Home Secretary and the kind of monstrous scum behind the evil racket. It also shows why the French – in their interest and in ours – need to work more closely with us to solve this mega-crisis.’

Tory MP for Ipswich Tom Hunt said our ‘disturbing’ inquiry found that people smuggling businesses should be ‘crushed’.

He added: “It’s very worrying, but we know it’s happening and there’s an industry behind it. We must make the route unfeasible and destroy their business model. They make a lot of money, so we have to create a deterrent.”

Additional coverage: Eriola Nasi

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