The refrigerated truck with the dead refugees was found on the Austrian side of the border with Hungary on the main Budapest-to-Vienna highway at the end of August last year. The bodies included Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani nationals.
The Bulgarian admitted being one of a gang that regularly trafficked people along the A4 between Vienna and Budapest. He said that included the four men that were arrested in southern Hungary on the same day that the 71 bodies were found.
The man, who was not named for legal reasons, was on trial in the Austrian city of Linz. The court heard he had originally denied that he had been a driver for the gang.
However he later admitted to being the driver in a smuggling incident involving 20 Syrian, Iranian and Afghani refugees, and then also admitted his links with the four others facing trial in Hungary.
He was arrested when the lorry he had been driving in was involved in a chase down the motorway with police after refusing to stop when asked to do so at Enns, a town in the state of Upper Austria.
As he sped off, police cars had followed and he had been ramming them, injuring one police officers as he continued to try and escape. The court heard it took several kilometres before police finally forced the lorry to stop, at which point the man jumped out the driver's cab and ran off.
He was then arrested by police officers a short while later when he was spotted hiding in a field.
When police looked inside the van, they found 20 refugees packed in and almost unable to breathe because it was a refrigerated van, and almost airtight.
As the case was outlined, the man changed his plea after talking with his defence and apologised for "what I did". The court also heard that he had been prosecuted six times in Bulgaria for driving without a licence.
He said he was promised €250 per person and had agreed to become a people smuggler because he had big debts, as well as an alcohol and drug problem. He claimed that his addiction had driven him into the hands of the criminals. But he rejected the prosecution's allegation that he had been taking refugees under painful life-threatening conditions from Hungary towards Germany.
He said that every time they banged on the wall of the van, he had pulled over, and he had left the door open so that they could breathe in the six-square-metre interior.
His confession over his relationship with the other members of the gang has been sent to Hungarian officials who are currently still preparing the court case.
The 41-year-old was jailed on charges of resisting arrest, grievous bodily harm, reckless endangerment and driving recklessly without regard to whether life was being endangered. He accepted the five-year sentence but prosecutors have yet to confirm that they will not appeal and ask for more.
Story courtesy of Central European News.
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