Pilots jailed for their part in Albanian people smuggling plot

Richard Styles was sentenced alongside two other men after an investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) (Picture: NCA)

A pilot who joked about ‘normally getting arrested for drugs’ has been jailed for his part in a plot to smuggle four Albanians from Belgium to Britain.

Richard Styles was arrested alongside Silvano Turchet and Vijayakumar Sivakumar after the National Crime Agency foiled their plan in March 2022.

Styles, from St Albans, in Hertfordshire, was arrested at Deenethorpe Airfield near Corby, Northamptonshire.

The 53-year-old had just flown his twin-engine plane to the airfield from Belgium, transporting three men and a woman attempting to evade immigration checks.

Silvano Turchet was a fellow aviation buff (Picture: NCA)

As officers detained him, he joked: ‘I normally get arrested for drugs, so it is a bit strange.’

The NCA found he had worked with former pilot and fellow aviation buff Silvano Turchet to rent the six-seater Piper Seneca for £1,500.

The 68-year-old had paid for the jet to be stored in a hangar before the flight on March 23.

Investigators believe the men were in contact with an Albanian known as ‘Tim K’ who arranged for the passengers to meet him in Belgium.

Vijayakumar Sivakumar was also arrested as part of the investigation (Picture: NCA)

When the plane returned to the country the next day, the surveillance team was waiting.

Meanwhile, Sivakumar who had previously been convicted for trying to smuggle someone into the UK in the boot of his car, was also arrested.

Phone records showed the 43-year-old had been in contact with Tim K in the run up to the flight.

Sarah Jennings, CPS Specialist prosecutor, said all three defendants were involved in a planned and co-ordinated attempt to bypass immigration controls.

The plane used to transport the four Albanians (Picture: NCA)

‘The CPS worked extremely closely with investigators to build this case including the National Crime Agency and international law enforcement in Belgium,’ she added.

‘The evidence we presented showed the three men working together in the run up to the offence including on the day they were caught, unaware that the NCA were waiting as the plane landed.’

All three men were charged with facilitating a breach of immigration law, a charge Styles admitted at a hearing on August 8, 2022.

Turchet pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial, while Sivakumar was found guilty by a jury after a five day trial at Leicester Crown Court in February 2023.

On April 28, a judge at the same court sentenced Styles to seven years in prison, Turchet to seven-and-a-half years, and Sivakumar to four-and-a-half years.

NCA regional head of investigations Jacque Beer described Styles as a ‘career criminal’ who previously used his piloting skills to move consignments of drugs around Europe.

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‘On this occasion he was offering a luxury end to end service, bringing people into the UK using a private plane,’ he added,

‘His comments to my officers show that he considered getting arrested nothing more than an occupational hazard.

‘Turchet used his aviation knowledge and criminal connections to organise the attempt.

‘People smugglers use a range of methods to try and breach UK border controls, and we are determined to do all we can to stop them.

‘Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA.’

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