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CRIME

Elite cop masterminds armed robbery

A former policeman from the elite Viennese police special forces unit WEGA (Wiener Einsatzgruppe Alarmabteilung) appeared in court Tuesday to answer charges of carrying out an armed robbery, reportedly intending to finance a charitable aid project in Africa. He and his younger female accomplice were each sentenced to eight years in prison.

Elite cop masterminds armed robbery
WEGA police special forces. File photo: APA

Gabriel E. (49), an ex-cop from Vienna's elite WEGA unit, had retired from the force after being shot, and went into the private security business.  

According to court testimony, he spent several years in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, where he was profoundly moved by the plight of the people in those countries, describing them as "the people who have nothing."

Despite writing many letters requesting charitable assistance on behalf of the impoverished in Africa, the defendant was frustrated in his attempts to help them.

After returning to Austria, he met in a church a 35-year-old woman, Tamara S., who also wanted to help.  Inspired by Gabriel's dream of establishing an orphan children's home in Gabon, Tamara began to prepare herself for a new life in Africa, by acquiring a driving license, studying English, and training as a paramedic.

Gabriel discussed various options with Tamara, who at their initial meeting was working for Loomis, a security transport company.  Gabriel also had worked for the same company on a brief contract, and therefore the two possessed considerable insider knowledge about the security precautions and alarm systems of the company.

Together, the pair hatched the plan of robbing a Loomis armored transport vehicle, intending to take the proceeds with them to Africa to fund the orphanage.

They carried out the crime on the evening of 23 December 2013, when the pair, armed and wearing masks, held up the drivers of a secure transport operated by the woman's former employer, which was being used to refill ATMs.

The pair allegedly escaped with over €3 million according to a report in Vienna Online.

One of several suitcases filled with money recovered by Police.  Photo: Police (LPD)

Police investigators were sceptical that such a robbery could be undertaken by anyone without an enormous degree of inside knowledge.  The high amount of professionalism displayed showed they were dealing with someone trained and skilled in such operations.  

Finally, although the perpetrators were masked, the fact that one of the pair was obviously female and of slight build led them to match descriptions with a former employee of Loomis.

After confessing, the pair were both found guilty, and each was sentenced to eight years in prison.  In sentencing, judge Claudia Zöllner noted that the alleged intention of using the money to help orphans in Africa was "no respectable motive."

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CRIME

Does Austria have a street car racing problem?

A fatal accident involving a speeding driver in the streets of Austria's capital Vienna has once again sparked the debate about illegal car racing in the country.

Does Austria have a street car racing problem?

A 26-year-old man sped through the streets of central Vienna in his Mercedes on a Sunday evening.

After he failed to stop at a red light he mowed into a car being driven by a 48-year-old woman. She later died in hospital.

The police had said a video recorder at the time of the accident showed evidence the driver was taking part in some kind of illegal race. Even though a Vienna court later said it saw “no evidence at all” that indicates street racing, the debate was already ignited.

Does Austria, and especially Vienna, have an illegal car racing problem?

According to the Viennese police, there are no statistics specifically for street racing. However, “there is an active racing scene in Vienna”, spokesperson Markus Dittrich told The Local.

READ ALSO: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

Estimates put the number of “members of the illegal scene” in Vienna between 800 to 1,000 people. Current hotspots are still the area around Kahlenberg, Triester Straße, the Oberlaa area and the Kagran business park.

The police measured instances of speeding and from April to August 2022, around 6,500 reports were placed in the capital and 30 driving licenses were confiscated on site.

What are the police currently doing?

“In order to take decisive action against the active racing scene, checks have been significantly increased.”

“Furthermore, coordinated traffic planning checks are being carried out by the Vienna police department and various city police commands, and the relevant municipal departments are also involved”, Dittrich said.

In August, the City of Vienna took action in one of the “hotspots” for racing, adding 65 concrete barriers to prevent races in the car park in Kahlenberg, as The Local reported.

As racers move to different areas once blocks are put in place, the police also resort heavily on the two consequences it can impose: high fines and the revocation of driving licenses.”.

READ ALSO: Vienna wants to take action against speeding drivers

Fines can reach up to €5,000 on higher offences, such as driving 40 km/h or more over the speeding limit in a city (or 50 km/h above limits on a road). In addition, driving licences can be withheld for one month or three months in the case of repeated offences.

From an excess of 80 km/h, the license is taken away for half a year.

Calls for changes in the law

The recent debate in Austria has also now brought the issue of possible changes in the law, with experts claiming that the current legislation might not be sufficient.

Illegal racing is not a crime per se, but offences such as “endangering physical safety” or “deliberate endangerment of the public” are applied. If people are killed or injured, the crime is negligence – with up to three years in prison possible for those convicted of grossly negligent homicide.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about driving on the autobahn in Austria

Some are asking for “zero tolerance“, saying that the crimes should not be seen as negligence but as murder – those who drive too fast or under the influence of alcohol take a risk knowing they might kill someone.

Others, however, say that turning negligence into murder holds a trap. “Attempted murder is also punishable. So the penalty for just participating in an illegal auto race where nothing happened? In practice, for example, 12 years in prison for 350 meters of a car race on Triester Straße?” wrote Constitutional Court member Dr Michael Rami on Twitter.

Still, the head of the legal services at Austria’s traffic authority ÖAMTC, Martin Hoffer, told public broadcaster ORF: “To prove murder against someone, you, of course, have to prove the corresponding intentionality”.

“That doesn’t mean a specific intention to kill a certain person, but to seriously consider it possible (and to accept) that someone may die in that situation.” So, a racing driver may not set out to kill someone, but they acknowledge that their actions could result in somebody’s death.

That could be a realistic scenario in an illegal race – and the debate in Austria continues.

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