The defendants, three men and two women who are all originally from Serbia, are said to have made three trips a week across the Austrian border, with 40 people smuggled into the back of vehicles.
A 60-year-old Serbian woman with Austrian citizenship and her 43-year-old partner are believed to be the gang’s leaders. They charged each refugee between €250 and €300, and paid the drivers of their vehicles just €200 or €250 for each trip, according to prosecutors.
Overall the group cashed in €375,000, prosecutor Bianca Schöndorfer said. Two Serbian men aged 36 and 50 drove the vehicles, and afterwards stayed with the Serbian woman and her boyfriend’s mother in their Vienna apartments.
Between May and mid-September last year, they are believed to have transported 1,500 refugees across the border. Schöndorfer said that in order to “maximise their profits” the group increased their trips to three times a week, driving several vehicles in convoy with up to 40 people in the back – some of the vehicles were dangerously overcrowded.
The drivers were told not to stop during the journey and the refugees were not given any food or water. They were kept in “awful conditions for long periods of time” and weren’t allowed to stop for toilet breaks, Schöndorfer said.
One of the vehicles was a Renault Espace which had some of the seats removed and into which 14 people were crammed and made to lie on top of each other.
One witness told prosecutors that a refugee almost suffocated during the journey due to smoke from a faulty engine coming into the car.
The smugglers face between one and ten years in prison. The 43-year-old ringleader already has a criminal record and is likely to get a tougher sentence of up to 15 years.
His 60-year-old girlfriend said she wanted nothing to do with the smuggling and had only grudgingly agreed that the drivers could stay with her. Her boyfriend has already pled guilty to some of the charges and said that he needed the money to get medical treatment for a lung condition, as he does not have health insurance and that he also paid for his parents house in Serbia to be renovated.
His 59-year-old mother is one of the accused, and has admitted to providing overnight accommodation for the drivers and registering them at her apartment in Vienna.
The gang was busted on September 11th when several members were arrested. All five of the accused have been in prison awaiting trial for the past five months.