Brazilian federal police on Thursday arrested Saifullah Al-Mamun, a Bangladeshi-born human trafficker, who is considered by the authorities to be one of the top in his line of work.
Collaborating with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Brazilian police arrested members of a group allegedly implicated in a large scheme of smuggling people into the United States, reports Reuters.
Several arrests were made in Sao Paulo, where Saifullah was living, and in three other Brazilian cities. The police also froze 42 bank accounts it says were used by the group to finance their activities.
The operation disrupted and dismantled a major transnational alien smuggling organization, following which Saifullah was also indicted in the United States.
According to a US Department of Justice press release, the "alien smugglers targeted in this operation are alleged to be responsible for the illicit smuggling of scores of individuals from South Asia and elsewhere, into Brazil, and ultimately to the United States."
Saifullah, 32, was charged in a superseding indictment unsealed on Saturday in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Laredo Division.
The Bangladeshi has been charged with eight counts of conspiracy and alien smuggling.
However, Bangladeshi law enforcement claimed they had not heard about Saifullah before the media reports published on Saturday.
Speaking to The Business Standard, Nasir Uddin Ahmed, special superintendent of police working at the Trafficking and Human Behaviour Team of CID, said they had not heard of Saifullah before his arrest in Brazil.
He, however, said that they will try to bring Saifullah back to his home country with the help of the National Central Bureau of Interpol in Bangladesh.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Shah Alam also said he had never come across Saifullah's name during his tenure with the Trafficking and Human Behaviour Team.
Brazil police also arrested six more human smugglers: Saiful Islam, 32; Tamoor Khalid, 31; Nazrul Islam, 41; Mohammad Ifran Chaudhary, 39; Mohammad Nizam Uddin, 28; and Md Bulbul Hossain, 36.
Saifullah entered Brazil six years ago as a refugee, and was living in Bras, a diverse neighbourhood in Sao Paulo – home to immigrants from around the world.
The US alleged that he housed people coming from Southeast Asia in São Paulo, and arranged for their travel through a network of smugglers operating in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
According to Brazilian police, Saifullah and his group were smuggling into the US, via Brazil, people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
They were sent to Brazil's northern Acre state to start a long and dangerous trip through Central America all the way to the Mexican border, to cross into the United States.
These traffickers charged people coming from Asia around $12,524 for the attempt to reach the US. Some would also stay illegally in Brazil, where they were given fake documentation, Brazilian police informed Reuters.
Many of these people allegedly suffered violence while waiting in Sao Paulo to start the trip north. Law enforcement said a group of eight Bengali people fell into the hands of a Mexican drug cartel while traveling towards the Mexico-US border.
Saifullah, and his two Bangladeshi-born co-conspirators Milon Miah and Moktar Hossain, are alleged to have arranged to be paid in Mexico, Central America, South America, Bangladesh, and elsewhere.
Milon Miah was living in Tapachula, Mexico, prior to his arrest on August 31 at the George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas
Moktar Hossain, 31, a Bangladeshi national formerly living in Monterrey, Mexico, pleaded guilty on August 27 for his role in the scheme to smuggle aliens to the United States for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain, said the US Justice Department.
"Today's indictment shows our commitment to prosecute here in the United States those alien smugglers who put our country's public safety at risk by attempting to thwart our system of legal immigration," said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the US Justice Department's Criminal Division.
"We will continue to collaborate with our foreign law enforcement partners to hold international human smugglers accountable for the threat they pose to the national security of Brazil, the United States, and other nations," he added.
The United States has been dealing with a rising influx of illegal aliens, most of whom are traveling through Mexico from Central America.
As of September, there have been 851,508 apprehensions along the Southwest border in fiscal year 2019, according to data by the US Customs and Border Protection.
"Transnational human smuggling organizations threaten the security of the United States," said Scott Brown, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations, Phoenix.
He added that through a significant joint effort with their domestic and international law enforcement partners, these arrests signify another victory against those who conspire to undermine American immigration laws for their own profit.
The indictment against Saifullah and the US assistance provided to Brazilian law enforcement were coordinated under the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force programme, which focuses on human smuggling networks that could threaten national security, public safety, or present grave humanitarian concerns.