Woman set up fake charity to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK

A woman who founded a charity as a front for human trafficking has been jailed for five years.

Pranvera Smith, 47, set up a charity claiming to help Albanian asylum seekers, after fraudulently securing a £10,000 Big Lottery Fund grant.

She used her position to smuggle up to 30 illegal immigrants a month into the UK then made them work in cannabis farms to to pay for her ‘charitable’ services.

Smith used the bogus charity, called Freedom To Stay, to intimidate desperate immigrants into paying around £1,000 each for ‘services’, which she said included securing benefits, housing and lodging asylum applications.

The mum of three founded the group in Birmingham in 2014, and ran it with her partner Flamur Daka, 44.

She is thought to have made at least £130,000 from those she exploited after describing herself as ‘La Nonna’, or an Albanian mafia ‘grandmother’.

The charity claimed it was a not-for-profit group helping vulnerable Albanian asylum seekers navigate the benefits and care system.

But a police investigation found the pair were keeping taxpayers’ money for themselves and charging clients a small fortune for their help.

Many of the new arrivals ended up working below minimum wage in car washes to meet Smith’s bullying demands, while others were forced to work at cannabis farms.

The West Midlands regional organised crime unit found the pair trafficked people from Albania in trucks via Ghent.

A 21-year-old man was rescued from the back of a lorry in the Belgian port on July 2 this year, and the pair’s offices in Bearwood high street were raided.

Smith and Daka’s homes were also searched, along with a property which Smith had spent around £30,000 converting into a Mediterranean restaurant.

In the first six months of 2020 alone the pair had trafficked more than 130 victims.

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

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

‘They were traffickers and abusers’

Detective chief inspector Will Henley said after the case: ‘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.

‘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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