African human trafficking fugitive nabbed in joint operation


Kenyan police arrested a man sought in connection with human trafficking since 2017 in a joint operation with Dutch authorities and Interpol.

53-year-old John Habeta was taken into custody at Schiphol International airport in Amsterdam on 25 December after his arrest in Kenya.

Kenyan police arrested Habeta in Nairobi on 16 December in a sting operation co-ordinated between authorities in The Netherlands and Kenya with the support of Interpol General Secretariat headquarters. Habeta allegedly smuggled dozens of men, women and children to Europe from east Africa.

Acting on globally sourced Interpol intelligence, the Interpol national central bureau (NCB) in The Hague alerted the Kenyan NCB to the fugitive’s presence in Nairobi on 10 December.

An Interpol Red Notice – or international fugitive alert – published the same day for people smuggling and use of fake identity documents to carry out transcontinental smuggling operations, triggered surveillance and arrest on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital.

The Dutch national remains in custody in The Netherlands until trial where, if convicted, he faces up to eight years in prison.

Complex criminal networks facilitate the illegal passage of migrants across borders – for a price the 195 member strong international police organisation said.

Using Interpol’s secure global police communications network – I-24/7, the organisation co-ordinated global efforts to disrupt the trafficking network enabling countries to share criminal intelligence and analysis on Habeta and how he organised trans-continental smuggling operations.

Habeta was allegedly involved in at least four operations to smuggle Eritrean nationals into Europe using routes from Asia.

The Interpol specialised migrant smuggling and human trafficking unit  identified Habeta as a high priority target in October 2020 when member countries alerted Interpol to new leads about the fugitive’s global smuggling activities. These were immediately shared with the NCB in The Hague.

The subsequent issue of the Red Notice was central to the location and arrest of the fugitive.

People smuggling syndicates are run like businesses with high profit margins and links to a wide range of serious and often violent crimes including illicit money flows, corruption, terrorism, trafficking in illicit goods and human trafficking, according to an Interpol statement.

They focus on profit margins, facilitating passage of migrants with little or no regard for safety and well-being.

Criminal groups behind human trafficking and migrant smuggling were hit last July when the Interpol operation Liberterra saw 286 suspects arrested worldwide.

In April, Operation Weka mobilised 24 source, transit and destination countries enabling authorities in Africa and Europe to rescue 500 victims of human trafficking and identify 760 irregular migrants.

Both operations boosted regional law enforcement co-operation into people smuggling and triggered associated police investigations in all continents on targets including Habeta.