Trafficking kingpin who employed Armagh trucker Mo Robinson jailed for 15 years

Vo Van Hong was responsible for smuggling 15 of the 39 immigrants who were discovered dead in the back of Robinson's truck

Vo Van Hong in court in Belgium

Paula Mackin

The kingpin of the human smuggling gang that employed Armagh trafficker Mo Robinson has been jailed for 15 years.

The Sunday World can reveal the man known as Vo Van Hong was responsible for smuggling 15 of the 39 immigrants who were discovered dead in the back of Robinson's truck in Essex in 2019.

Hong (45) was nabbed by police in Brussels last month and his connection to Robinson and his sidekick Eamonn Harrison was revealed.

Robinson, from Co Armagh, was jailed for 13 years for manslaughter while Harrison, from Co Down, was given an 18-year sentence for his role in the tragic deaths of the desperate immigrants.

Police at the truck

During the police investigation, the leaders of the cross-Channel trafficking operation were gradually revealed and they included Ronan Hughes, the Co Monaghan haulage boss, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter alongside Robinson at the Old Bailey in London in 2020.

However, the 'Mr Big' of the operation remained a mystery until now after painstaking investigations that began eight months before the deaths of the Vietnamese victims in Essex.

Robinson had smuggled in 28 Vietnamese men, eight women and three teenage boys who all suffocated in the back of his truck in temperatures that reached 38C.

During the trial it was revealed how some had desperately tried to tear their way out of the container, leaving bloody handprints inside.

Robinson waited 23 minutes before calling 999, opting to make contact with his paymasters first before checking if any lives could be saved.

Ronan Hughes

At the time of their deaths the Sunday World revealed how Hughes was known among trafficking circles to refer to his human cargo as 'chickens'.

Police in Brussels revealed that Hong used the same term to describe the people who paid him £40,000 for a passage.

Hong has been described by investigators as ruthless and he even charged his own cousin to travel on the doomed trip to Essex.

He also forced a 15-year-old girl into prostitution for years to pay her debt to travel to the UK.

However, time finally ran out for the kingpin when police smashed down the door of a dingy flat in Brussels where Hong was discovered lying on a threadbare mattress.

Police discovered six passports he used, four Vietnamese and two Chinese. Three iPhones and suitcases stuffed full with other people's identity papers were also discovered, showing the scale of his operation.

The flat where he was discovered had been used as a safe house for the Vietnamese immigrants who died in the back of Mo Robinson's lorry.

The dawn raid on Hong's flat, which he rented for almost two years, was the culmination of investigations led by Belgian and British police and prosecutors.

They claim Hong's gang, including on occasions his Irish cohorts, were responsible for transporting 335 Vietnamese migrants to Europe and 195 to the UK.

The trade was estimated to have netted them over six million pounds, money they made out of human misery.

At his trial, the judge said Hong was "at the top of the hierarchy" and the "undisputed leader of the criminal organisation".

Mo Robinson

Investigators proved Hong was personally involved in recruiting victims from his native Vietnam and arranged for their illegal transport to the UK. It was then he contacted criminal hauliers such as Ronan Hughes to bring his "chickens" on to British soil.

Last year the Sunday World revealed both Hughes and Robinson were struggling with life behind bars.

The pair had also been ordered to pay compensation to the 39 families left devastated by their callous actions, with Robinson being forced to sell his family home or face a further eight months in jail.

Robinson had stood to make around £50,000 for the single delivery but his people smuggling bosses Ronan Hughes and Romanian Gheorghe Nica (39) packed too many people into the trailer for them to be able to survive the ferry crossing from Belgium.

Footage of Robinson leaving the port

A close source to Robinson said he fears he will never be able to survive the full 13-year stretch.

"Mo's far from a hard man, he was an opportunist who thought only about making a few quid.

"Belmarsh is hell on earth for him, he says you constantly live in fear and he finds it hard being locked up. A bit ironic, considering what his victims went though," the source revealed.

Last year the Sunday World exposed Robinson as a racist and a bigot after obtaining shocking messages he posted on social media.

In one post he even chillingly moaned about migrants coming to the UK "stuffed in the back of a lorry".

"I actually hate foreigners. Do us all a favour and go home," he posted.

One picture showed Robinson setting fire to an Irish tricolour, while in another post he refers to Catholics as Fenians.

"Hahaha I know that as well! The place is up the left... but I can near stick them more than I can foreigners! At least ya get a few dead on fenians haha."


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