BRUGES, Belgium (Reuters) - The Vietnamese head of a human trafficking gang was sentenced to 15 years in jail by a Belgian court on Wednesday for the manslaughter of 39 compatriots who suffocated in an airtight shipping container smuggled into Britain in 2019.
The court in Bruges also ordered Vo Van Hong, 45, to pay a 920,000 euro ($1.04 million) fine and gave prison terms of between 18 months and 10 years to 17 others for their roles in large-scale people smuggling from Vietnam to Britain.
The three-judge panel said in a ruling that ran to 234 pages that those convicted had cynically exploited the victims, who were each charged nearly 25,000 euros for the trip to Britain, and treated them as a dehumanised cargo.
Among those convicted were 11 people from Vietnam or of Vietnamese origin who allowed their property to be used as a meeting point for migrants, sorted out documents or mobile phone SIM cards for the victims or acted as intermediaries.
Six taxi drivers, who took migrants mainly from Brussels to meeting points for various trafficking operations, were also convicted, including their leader, a Moroccan man who continued these activities even after the events of October 2019.
The bodies of 39 Vietnamese people were found inside a truck container that had boarded a ship in the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
Last year, a British court convicted four men https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-bodies-vietnam-idUSKBN29R1Z2, including two truck drivers, for manslaughter and immigration offences and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 13 to 27 years.
The discovery of so many dead people - two as young as 15 - in the back of the truck on an industrial estate to the east of London shocked Britain and Vietnam.
Most of those who died were from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in north-central Vietnam, where poor job prospects, environmental disasters and the promise of financial reward abroad fuel migration.
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(Writing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)