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CRIME

Austrian Josef Fritzl to be released to ‘normal prison’

Josef Fritzl, was imprisoned in 2009 for the rape and unlawful detention of his daughter in the Austrian village of Amstetten, has been released from psychiatric detention on Wednesday and is set to serve in a standard prison. Fritzl is eligible for early release in 2023.

A file picture from 2009 shows Austrian Josef Fritzl before trial. Photo: SAMUEL KUBANI / AFP
A file picture from 2009 shows Austrian Josef Fritzl before trial. Photo: SAMUEL KUBANI / AFP

When making the decision, the Krems Regional Court held that Fritzl no longer posed any danger and could therefore be kept in a standard jail. 

Fritzl, who changed his name to Mayrhoff while in prison, was jailed in 2009 for several crimes including the unlawful imprisonment and rape of his daughter Elizabeth, who bore him seven children in a specially built soundproof basement. 

One of the children, a boy, died shortly after birth in 1996, upon which Fritzl burnt his body. 

Court spokesman Ferdinand Schuster told Austrian media on Wednesday that the decision was subject to an appeal to the Higher Regional Court (OLG) in Vienna. 

Fritzl’s release into the mainstream prison system was decided upon by a three-judge panel under a probation period of ten years. 

The panel made its decision based on a mental health assessment produced in March. 

Fritzl stood trial in 2008 for the crimes, having been deemed sane and therefore faced mainstream charges. 

Fritzl is eligible for release as early as 2023 after receiving a life sentence. 

Austrian media pointed out on Wednesday that a 2023 release would see him serve nine years less than his daughter Elizabeth spent in Josef’s basement dungeon. 

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CRIME

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”.

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