Two employees of UK company G4S, a firm hired to carry out additional security checks for Austrian Airlines are already in custody, while a further four suspects remain at large, state prosecutor spokesman Friedrich Köhl confirmed to the Kurier newspaper.
All six are accused of smuggling refugees into the airport and onto aeroplanes in exchange for between €7,000-9,000. If convicted, members of the group may face sentences of up to 10 years in prison.
The employees reportedly asked friends to pass through the security checks with flight tickets that were then handed over to the refugees waiting in the airport toilets.
“The last passport control at the gate is also carried out by the private security service for our airline,” said spokesperson for Austrian Airlines Sandra Bijelic. Therefore, the refugees were able to make it on board the plane unnoticed.
So far, eleven incidents involving refugees who were mainly from Sri Lanka, and who arrived in Vienna via Germany and other European countries, have been detected.
Airport spokesperson Peter Kleeman said that the responsibility lies with the airline and the security firm and the incidents did not involve Vienna International Airport security personnel.
“All the people had a valid boarding pass,” he said. “It is obvious that the travel documents and personal documents were exchanged after the security check. But the fact is that all individuals passed through the airport security checkpoints and therefore were able to reach dangerous objects and other things on board.”
Austrian Airlines are now working with the security services to investigate the matter internally. A total of 13 private security staff are under investigation. The G4S company has already dismissed one of the staff under suspicion. One man from Poland and another from Sri Lanka - the nationality of many of those allegedly trafficked -- have been arrested into investigative custody as part of the investigation, which was triggered when one of the persons who bypassed security was refused entry by US authorities.
According to a report from Reuters, the trafficking scheme was discovered after suspects tried to recruit a new accomplice, who reported the matter to the police in February, with arrests being made in March of this year.
Graham Levinsohn, G4S Regional CEO for Europe, said: “I can confirm that in compliance with Austrian labour law, an employee responsible for checking visa documentation at Vienna Airport on a contract with Austrian Airlines was dismissed in March following his arrest. A trial is on-going and we are unable to comment further.”