Mum-of-three set up fake charity to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK

A woman who set up a fake charity to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK has been jailed for five years.

Pranvera Smith founded the charity that claimed to help Albanian asylum seekers, after fraudulently securing a Big Lottery Fund grant for £10,000.

The 47-year-old smuggled up to 30 illegal immigrants a month into the UK and then forced them to work in cannabis farms.

She used the charity, called Freedom to Stay, to scare desperate immigrants into paying around £1,000 each for her services, which she claimed included securing benefits, housing and lodging asylum applications.

The mum-of-three set up the group in Birmingham six years ago in 2014 and ran it with her partner Flamur Daka, 44.

It is thought that she made at least £130,000 from her exploits and described herself as 'La Nonna' – an Albanian mafia 'grandmother'.

The charity purported to be a not-for-profit organisation that was providing support to vulnerable Albanian asylum seekers and help them navigate the benefits and care system.

However it turned out the pair were actually keeping taxpayer's money for themselves and charging clients for their help.

An investigation by the West Midlands regional organised crime unit revealed that Smith and Daka trafficked people from Albania in trucks via Ghent.

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A 21-year-old man was rescued from the back of a lorry in the Belgian port on July 2, and officers ended up searching the pair's office in Bearwood high street.

Smith and Daka’s homes were also raided, as well as a building that Smith had converted into a restaurant.

During the first half of 2020, the pair had trafficked more than 130 victims, police said.

Smith and Daka were arrested and both charged with conspiracy to breach UK immigration law. Smith was also charged with fraud by false representation in relation to the Big Lottery Fund claim and supplying cannabis.

Daka was also charged with supplying cocaine. The pair admitted all of the offences at Birmingham Crown Court.

Smith was jailed for five years and four months and Daka was sentenced to four years.

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Following the court case, Detective chief inspector Will Henley said: "They were traffickers and abusers. These were cynical, calculating crimes.

"Smith and Daka positioned themselves as big hearted charitable people who wanted to help very vulnerable people. In reality they were traffickers and abusers.

"They knew migrants would be paying up to £10,000 to traffickers to gain illegal entry in to the UK – and Smith would then charge each asylum seeker upwards of £1,000 for their ‘charity’ services.

"The rescued man would have been expected to hide in a lorry trailer for the entire duration of the trip from Belgium. Once their trafficking racket was established we believe they intended to smuggle up to 30 people a month into the UK. Smith liked to describe herself as “La Nonna” to ensure people knew she wasn’t a person to be messed with."

He added: "If they couldn’t pay up she would withhold important personal and immigration documents. And while their victims were suffering she and Daka were making lots of money which they spent on developing a restaurant and on houses in Albania and Turkey.

"We have restrained these properties pending a Proceeds of Crime Investigation. It’s important we show that crime doesn’t pay. I’d like to thank the East Flanders Human Trafficking Unit who helped us collect vital evidence.

"I have no doubt that together we have prevented a large number people being trafficked into the UK."

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