The kingpin of the smuggling gang that employed Armagh trafficker Mo Robinson has been jailed for 15 years.
he Sunday World can reveal the man known as Vo Van Hong was responsible for trafficking 15 of the 39 immigrants who were found dead in the back of Robinson’s lorry in Essex in 2019.
Hong (45) was arrested by police in Brussels last month and his connection to Robinson and his sidekick Eamonn Harrison has come to light.
Robinson, from Co Armagh, was jailed for 13 years for manslaughter while Harrison, from Co Down, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in the tragic deaths of desperate immigrants.
During the police investigation, those responsible for the cross-Channel trafficking operation have gradually come to light and among them Ronan Hughes, Co Monaghan’s transport boss, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter alongside Robinson at the Old Bailey in London in 2020.
However, the ‘Mr Big’ of the operation has remained a mystery until now after painstaking investigations which began eight months before the Vietnamese victims died in Essex.
Robinson had smuggled 28 Vietnamese men, eight women and three teenagers who all suffocated in the back of his truck in temperatures reaching 38C.
During the trial, it was revealed that some desperately tried to force their way out of the container, leaving bloody handprints inside.
Robinson waited 23 minutes before calling 999, opting to contact his payers first before checking to see if any lives could be saved.
At the time of their deaths, the Sunday World revealed how Hughes was known among smuggling circles for referring to his human cargo as ‘chickens’.
Brussels police revealed Hong used the same term to describe people who paid him £40,000 for passage.
Hong was described by investigators as ruthless, and he even tasked his own cousin with traveling on the doomed trip to Essex.
He also forced a 15-year-old girl into prostitution for years to pay her debt and get to the UK.
However, time finally ran out for the pivot when police kicked down the door of a seedy apartment in Brussels where Hong was discovered lying on a threadbare mattress.
Police found six passports he used, four Vietnamese and two Chinese. Three iPhones and suitcases stuffed with other people’s IDs were also discovered, showing the scale of his operation.
The apartment where he was discovered had served as a refuge for Vietnamese immigrants who died in the back of Mo Robinson’s truck.
The dawn raid on Hong’s apartment, which he rented for nearly two years, was the culmination of investigations by Belgian and British police and prosecutors.
They claim Hong’s gang, sometimes including his Irish cohorts, were responsible for transporting 335 Vietnamese migrants to Europe and 195 to the UK.
It is estimated that the trade brought them more than six million pounds, money they derived from human misery.
During his trial, the judge said that Hong was “at the top of the hierarchy” and the “undisputed leader of the criminal organization”.
Investigators have proven that Hong was personally involved in recruiting victims in his native Vietnam and arranging their illegal transport to the UK. It was then that he contacted criminal transporters such as Ronan Hughes to bring his “chickens” to British soil.
Last year, the Sunday World revealed Hughes and Robinson were struggling with life behind bars.
The couple had also been ordered to pay compensation to the 39 families devastated by their ruthless actions, with Robinson forced to sell his family home or face a further eight months in jail.
Robinson was expected to earn around £50,000 for the one-off delivery, but his smuggling bosses Ronan Hughes and Romanian Gheorghe Nica (39) packed too many people into the trailer for them to survive the ferry crossing from Belgium .
A source close to Robinson said he feared he would never be able to survive the full 13-year period.
“Mo is far from a hard man, he was an opportunist who only thought about gaining a few pounds.
“Belmarsh is hell on earth for him, he says you live in constant fear and he struggles to be locked up. Kinda ironic considering what his victims have done,” the source revealed.
Last year, the Sunday World denounced Robinson as a racist and fanatic after obtaining shocking messages he posted on social media.
In one article, he even complained about migrants arriving in the UK “stuffed into the back of a lorry”.
“I actually hate strangers. Do us all a favor and go home,” he posted.
One photo showed Robinson setting fire to an Irish tricolor, while in another post he referred to Catholics as Fenians.
“Hahaha, I know that too! The place is in the upper left…but I can almost stick them more than I can the foreigners! At least you got some kills on the Fenians haha.”
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