A British Detained on Corfu

A British Detained on Corfu

businessman faces human trafficking charges after raid on Corfu yacht

A British businessman detained on the Greek island of Corfu could face up to 25 years in prison for allegedly setting up illegal transfers of Turkish dissidents to Italy.

Ben Quentin Staton-Bevan appeared before a special prosecutor and was charged with offences related to human trafficking.

He was arrested at Athens international airport early on Sunday, hours after police detained four other suspected members of the gang as they were loading 13 Turkish citizens — ten men, one woman and two children — on to a yacht heading to Italy from Corfu.

Mr Staton-Bevan, 29, who left the island before he was arrested, was escorted back to Corfu, where he remains in police custody with the four other suspected smugglers, including the Turkish owner and captain of the yacht, the Princess Dilay.

“They were all on our radar screen for some time,” a police official close to the investigation said.

It remained unclear how long the group had been operating and how many migrants it had allegedly managed to sneak out of the country. The exact role that Mr Staton-Bevan is said to have played was also unclear.

Officials in Corfu are leading the criminal investigation. Fines and punishment of smugglers have stiffened in Greece as the country faces a rise in illegal migration. “His testimony is crucial to unravelling a potentially bigger trafficking operation,” a police official said.

The yacht and two cars that were used to transport the migrants from the Greek mainland to Corfu have been confiscated by the authorities, along with two mobile phones and €11,420 in cash found in possession of an alleged smuggler, the coastguard said.

The arrests came amid heightened border patrols and crackdowns on suspected traffickers ordered in recent months as a new wave of migrants began to arrive from Turkey.

More than 60,000 asylum seekers remain stranded in Greece after neighboring countries sealed their borders with Greece’s northern frontiers in 2016, plugging a Balkan route used by migrants, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, into Europe.

Since the botched 2016 coup in Turkey, thousands of the country’s citizens have joined the exodus, streaming into Greece to escape purges and the draconian rule of President Erdogan.

Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, said that Turks were the second most common nationality attempting to enter northeast Greece in the first four months of the year. Syrians continue to dominate refugee flows to Europe.

With a general election in Turkey next month the authorities in Greece have warned that the result could lead to a further rise in Turkish migrants.