The four alleged people smugglers were arrested last week after officers found a replica gun, cash, and incriminating documents at a suspect’s home.
The men, believed to have employed a vast network of smugglers from their Rennes base, allegedly helped sneak more than 550 Iraqi, Iranian, and Syrian illegal immigrants across the Channel.
Rennes prosecutor Emmanuel Razous said the group have since been charged with immigration-related offences, including “assisting unlawful immigration to a member state” and are currently awaiting trial.
According to Mr Razous, scores of immigrant families – who had come to Rennes from the Calais ‘Jungle’ refugee camp and from the Grande-Synthe tent camp in Dunkirk – “were shoved in the back of refrigerated lorries and smuggled out of France by unsuspecting truckers”.
The four men allegedly initially took the migrants to a hideout located in the neighbouring town of Sarthe, before helping them break into Britain-bound lorries parked at local motorway service stations in the dead of night.
The illegal immigrants were then packed into the back of the refrigerated trucks, and driven to the Franco-British border by the truckers, who remained unaware of their presence throughout.
The lorry drivers were always followed by a smaller, less noticeable vehicle driven by one of the human traffickers, who tailed the lorries in order to track the drivers’ progress and make sure the the migrants had been ‘delivered’ safely.
The people smugglers would head to motorway rest stops in Dissay-sur-Courcillon, near Sarthe, and Haras, a northern town within easy reach of Calais, said local police officials.
One of the traffickers would pick out a refrigerated lorry stationed at the motorway service station for the night, before helping the migrants climb into the back of the vehicle using a telescopic ladder.
Mr Razous said: “One of the suspected ringleaders used his building company as a front, and used company funds to cover smuggling-related expenses, including transport and shelter.”
Police officers found more than £40,000 in cash, a replica gun, and financial documents offering proof that then men were engaged in human trafficking after searching the suspected ringleader’s home.