Police bust international ‘tractor ring’

Upper Austrian police, together with investigators from Lower Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, have arrested a group that had been stealing tractors and other agricultural machinery on a large scale and selling them online.

Police bust international 'tractor ring'
A man driving a tractor. File photo: APA/Sebastian Kahnert

Two Austrians have been arrested, as well as a man in Belgium who was believed to be the fence for the stolen goods, and three men in the Netherlands.

Investigations are still ongoing in the Netherlands and Belgium, said Rudolf Frühwirth from the Upper Austrian police.

Austrian police began investigations last year after a 43-year-old Lower Austrian man was stopped at a checkpoint in Upper Austria, with what turned out to be a stolen tractor on his trailer. Eight similar vehicles were then discovered on his property.

When detectives investigated the man they found that he had bought 26 agricultural vehicles between September 2012 and May 2013 for several hundred thousand euros, and then sold 18. All the vehicles had been stolen in the Netherlands or in Germany and had fake chassis numbers or nameplates.

An Upper Austrian man had bought six vehicles from the same source on the Internet.

In the Netherlands police seized devices used for manipulating the chassis.

So far 28 stolen tractors have been returned to their rightful owners, but the group is likely to have stolen and sold many more.

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Austrian police smash people smuggling ring

Police have smashed a group believed to have smuggled tens of thousands of people with two of them found suffocated in a truck last year, Austria's interior ministry announced on Thursday.

Austrian police smash people smuggling ring

A total of 205 people suspected to be linked to the group have been arrested in central and eastern Europe, while 80 vehicles have been seized, Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said.

Of the arrests, 92 of them were in Austria, and the rest in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

Investigators, who began looking into the case early last year, believe the group smuggled more than 36,100 people, including children, from Hungary to Austria.

With this they raked in an estimated 152 million euros ($159 million), making this the biggest operation uncovered in Austria in recent years, according to Karner.

“This is an important success against organised crime and a serious blow to the smuggler mafia,” Karner said in a statement. Those smuggled were trying to reach western European countries, including Germany and France.

They were brought to Vienna and then smuggled on through other groups, the statement said. In one incident linked to the group, the bodies of two people were discovered last October when Austrian authorities stopped and searched a van at the border with Hungary.

Twenty-seven others were crammed in the vehicle, whose driver fled the scene, but has since been arrested in Latvia and extradited, according to the ministry. In another incident in January linked to the group, an alleged smuggler fired at an army conscript when troops tried to stop his vehicle. The man has since been arrested in Hungary. Austria this week once again extended border controls on its frontiers with Hungary and Slovenia.

Such controls provide authorities “with important insights into smuggling organisations and their procedures,” Karner said.

The European Court of Justice in April criticised Austria’s long-term controls on its border to Slovenia. It ruled that EU member states can only prolong border controls when “confronted with a new serious threat affecting its public order or its internal security”.