Algirdas Barteska was convicted for people smuggling.
Algirdas Barteska, a former flying instructor from Lithuania, was arrested on June 24 last year after Border Force personnel were forced to chase him down a runway as he tried a daring ‘drop and run’ mission involving three Albanian migrants at a private member’s flying club in Seething, Norfolk.
As Border Force staff attempted to prevent the 60-year-old trafficker from escaping, Barteska continued with his takeoff procedure undeterred, forcing his pursuers to bang on the cockpit window in order to bring the Cessna light aircraft to a halt.
Once detained, Barteska was found carrying €5,000, which he claimed had been his payment from the family for smuggling them into Britain from Germany.
Presiding, Judge Stephen Holt sentenced Barteska to six years imprisonment, adding that his crimes fell into “the more serious category” and should be considered a deterrent to others planning similar operations.
“Small airfields, particularly in Norfolk are just defenceless,” he added.
“There just isn’t the manpower and there has to be a deterrent aspect. In my judgement there are dozens of small airfields in East Anglia which are extremely vulnerable to this sort of people smuggling.”
The airfield’s staff were originally alerted to Barteska’s activities earlier last year, after he was seen by a member of the public making two test flights to the airfield in May.
Records of the plane were logged and an alarm was later raised when its transponder showed that it had reentered British airspace on June 24, after departing Dinslaken in Germany with the Albanian family.
It later emerged that Barteska had filed a flight plan to Nottingham airport but had made no mention of his passengers.
When questioned at Norwich Crown Court yesterday, Barteska said he had been hired to fly the family to the UK in his employer’s Cessna because they had been interested in buying the light aircraft, adding that he had been forced to make an unscheduled landing in order for the mother and daughter to use the airfield’s toilet facilities.
He also claimed that he was unaware that his passengers were not permitted to land in the UK, adding that he was attempting to takeoff in order to complete his flight to Nottingham.
However, a jury took just over two hours to return a guilty verdict for three counts of assisting people smuggling, which Barteska will serve concurrently.
Judge Holt also singled out Barteska’s employer, Finnish businessman Kristia Tieda - who runs a business in Helsinki purportedly offering people assistance with immigration - as “the principle figure in the people smuggling operation.”
Asked whether British authorities were working to arrest Mr Tieder - whose Cessna light aircraft was registered to a US trust company - prosecutor John Farmer said that his whereabouts were currently unknown, but that steps were being taken to uncover his location.
Commenting on the case, Adam Hutton, chief immigration officer in Immigration Enforcement's Criminal and Financial Investigations Team, said: "Barteska has 43 years flying experience.
"It stretches credulity to believe that someone with such a background could genuinely believe he was entitled to bring three people into the UK without establishing whether they had the right to enter the country.
"The reality is that he agreed to deliberately try to circumvent the UK's immigration controls in exchange for money.
"Barteska's offences struck at the very heart of immigration control and his conviction today sends a clear message that this kind of criminality will be severely dealt with."
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