Former winner of Britain’s Strongest Man contest ‘led people smuggling ring’

Former winner of Britain’s Strongest Man contest ‘led people smuggling ring which trafficked Albanians into Britain on a catamaran’

  • Jimmy Marku, 44, was crowned Britain’s Strongest Man in 2008  
  • He is now on trial with two others who are accused of people smuggling 
  • Trio are on trial for smuggling 17 Albanians from France to UK in a catamaran 

Jimmy Marku (pictured) won the strongman competition in 2008, eight years before he was accused of teaming up with restaurateur Alex Sefolli, 39 and his brother Jetmir Marku, 36, to smuggle immigrants across the channel on a £13,000 catamaran

A bodybuilder who was once crowned Britain’s Strongest Man was at the centre of a people smuggling gang bringing Albanians to Britain, a court heard today.

Jimmy Marku, 44, won the strongman competition in 2008, eight years before he was accused of teaming up with restaurateur Alex Sefolli, 39 and his brother Jetmir Marku, 36, to smuggle immigrants across the channel on a £13,000 catamaran.

Police officers boarded the catamaran, called the Fortunella, at Chichester Marina in May 2016. 

They found 17 Albanians hiding below deck, a judge at Isleworth Crown Court heard.

Sefolli, from Northampton owned a tapas restaurant and a series of building companies before turning to trafficking when he was declared bankrupt, it was claimed.

Australian Stephen Jackson, the catamaran skipper, has already admitted his part in the conspiracy.  

The Marku brothers, living in Ealing, are also accused of providing accommodation for illegal immigrants between 2014 and 2017.

And Sefoli is accused of hiring three illegal immigrants in September 2017.

Police officers boarded the catamaran, called the Fortunella, at Chichester Marina in May 2016. They found 17 Albanians hiding below deck, a judge at Isleworth Crown Court heard

Police officers boarded the catamaran, called the Fortunella, at Chichester Marina in May 2016. They found 17 Albanians hiding below deck, a judge at Isleworth Crown Court heard

Prosecutor Christopher Amis said: ‘The case you are about to try concerns serious organised crime.

‘The defendants are charged with an offence of people smuggling, a matter sometimes referred to as people trafficking.’

Mr Amis said they were ‘part of a well-organised conspiracy to smuggle 17 Albanian nationals from the French coast to the United Kingdom by boat on May 2016.’

The Marku brothers were caught harbouring three Albanians illegally at their home in west London, the court heard.

‘Those men were found at the Marku brothers’ address in Acton when it was visited by immigration officers on the 23 June 2017,’ he added.

The prosecutor explained that Yugoslavian-born Brit Jimmy Marku has admitted his part in the plot to smuggle people into the UK.

‘That means you’re starting this trial knowing as a fact there was a conspiracy to smuggle 17 Albanian nationals into the UK,’ he added.

Pictured, Jetmir Marku. The Marku brothers, living in Ealing, are also accused of providing accommodation for illegal immigrants between 2014 and 2017. And Sefoli is accused of hiring three illegal immigrants in September 2017

 Pictured, Jetmir Marku. The Marku brothers, living in Ealing, are also accused of providing accommodation for illegal immigrants between 2014 and 2017. And Sefoli is accused of hiring three illegal immigrants in September 2017

Albanian-born Sefolli, who ran the tapas restaurant Les Olives in Northampton and several building companies, was declared bankrupt in 2016.

‘It was no doubt the prospect of making significant amount of money from human trafficking that was the motive of Mr Sefolli’s involvement,’ added the prosecutor.

Jetmir Marku, a self-employed builder, had worked with Sefolli on a number of building projects.

Jimmy Marku, during his time competing in a strongman contest

Jimmy Marku, during his time competing in a strongman contest

The plot was uncovered when officers intercepted the catamaran captained by Jackson, the court heard.

‘When police boarded the boat as he arrived in Chichester Marina on 23 May 2016 they discovered 17 Albanian nationals hiding below deck.

‘None of them had visas, as is required, to enter the UK. Mr Jackson was arrested and the investigation followed.

‘It showed he had substantial links with all three of these defendants. The Crown says they were closely involved in this criminal enterprise,’ the prosecutor said.

Jimmy and Jetmir Marku and Sefolli deny three charges of facilitating unlawful migration.

Jetmir Marku and Sefoli also deny conspiracy to facilitate unlawful migration.

The trial continues. 

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