A FORMER Britain’s Strongest Man winner was part of a people smuggling gang that plotted to traffic 17 Albanians into Britain on a catamaran, a court heard today.
Jimmy Marku, 44, who also represented Britain three times in the World’s Strongest Man final, and his 35-year-old brother Jetmir Marku bought the boat with Alex Sefolli, 39, to use for human trafficking, jurors were told.
The court heard all three defendants are in Britain legally, but Jimmy was born in the former Yugoslavia while Jetmir and Sefolli were both born in Albania.
Isleworth Crown Court was told Jimmy Marku has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration along with Australian national, Steven Jackson.
Christopher Amis, prosecuting, said that on May 23rd, 2016, Jackson was arrested at Chichester Marina in West Sussex having travelled from France on the catamaran called The Fortunella.
Mr Amis said: “It was a double-hulled boat in which these Albanians were smuggled.
“When the police boarded Mr Jackson’s boat as he arrived at Chichester Marina they discovered these 17 Albanians nationals hiding below deck. None of them had a visa as required to enter the UK.
“The prosecution asserts these defendants were part of a well-organised conspiracy to smuggle 17 Albanian nationals from the French coast to the UK by boat in May of 2016.
The Crown’s case is that between March 1, 2016, and May 31, 2016, the three defendants in the dock conspired with Mr Jackson and with others unknown to smuggle 17 Albanian nationals into the UK.”
The jury heard Jackson, the captain of the catamaran, pleaded guilty to assisting unlawful immigration into a European member state in June 2016.
Mr Amis said: “The two defendants charged with conspiracy are Alex Sefolli and Jetmir Marku.
Jimmy pleaded guilty in April of this year at this court to his involvement in the conspiracy.
“Jimmy Marku accepts that he was part of a conspiracy to smuggle the 17 Albanians into this country between March and May 2016.
“That means that you start this trial knowing as a fact that there was a conspiracy to smuggle 17 Albanian nationals into the UK.
“The guilty pleas do not imply the guilt of either of those defendants or any of these defendants.”
The court heard police began an investigation after Jackson was stopped at Chichester Marina in May 2016.
It was said that Sefolli, a restaurant owner in Northampton, had recently been declared bankrupt and was the owner of the boat.
Mr Amis said: “The Crown say that it was no doubt the prospect of making significant sums of money from human trafficking which was the motive for Mr Sefolli who hoped this would provide a way out of his money difficulties.”
Jurors heard Sefolli contacted a boat seller in Emsworth, Hants, at the end of March 2016 offering £13,500 for a catamaran.
Mr Amis said: “The Fortunella was bought by Mr Sefolli, say the Crown, for the purpose of trafficking individuals into the UK.”
The court heard Jimmy Marku has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration along with Australian national, Steven Jackson.
Jimmy Marku is also charged jointly with his brother of assisting or facilitating unlawful immigration by providing accommodation and assistance to three other immigrants on June 23 2017 – which they both deny.
Jetmir Marku and Sefolli deny the conspiracy charge and Sefolli also denies helping provide employment at his building company to three immigrants on September 5 2017.
Jimmy Marku of west London, denies three counts of assisting or facilitating illegal immigration.
Jetmir Marku, also of west London, denies one count of conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration and three counts of assisting or facilitating illegal immigration.
Sefolli, of Northampton, denies one count of conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration and three counts of assisting or facilitating illegal immigration.
The trial continues.