Austrian brewery workers charged with stealing beer worth €1.7 million

More than 20 people stand accused of stealing some €1.7 million worth of beer over several years at a Graz brewery.

Austrian brewery workers charged with stealing beer worth €1.7 million
Austria starts trial on infamous beer theft case. Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels

Austria on Monday started a highly publicised trial of 24 people being accused of stealing millions of euros worth of beers while working at a brewery in Graz, broadcaster ORF reported.

The defendants are also accused of crimes including embezzlement and tax evasion. 

The prosecutors claim that the crimes started as early as January 2009, and the criminal organisation was only uncovered after an anonymous tip in 2017. At the time, the anonymous complaint stated that three employees had been stealing beer and non-alcoholic beverages for years.

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The brewery Puntigam investigated, planting hidden cameras that uncovered a large scale operation involving initially more than 50 suspects. 

According to the accusation, the people involved would say a certain amount of beer was a “faulty product”, allowing them to take them out and sell them. As the scheme and amounts grew more extensive, more workers – and higher on the hierarchy – got involved.

Many of the defendants are said to have profited from an additional monthly income of more than €400 over the years of the crimes. 

One of the supervisors is said to have embezzled €50,000 while looking the other way on the selling scheme. All of the accused are Austrian nationals aged between 39 to 64 years old, ORF said.

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The defence lawyers say that some will claim partially guilty. Still, many will say they were innocent, stating that the practice of bringing home broken products was a “common” one and that the quantities alleged by the prosecutors were “not true”. 

A verdict is expected at the end of May, and the four main defendants could face a prison sentence of up to ten years.

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Austrian people smuggler jailed over deaths of Syrians in minivan

An Austrian court on Monday sentenced a people smuggler to seven years in prison over the deaths of two Syrians who suffocated in the crammed minivan he was driving, Austria's news agency reported.

Austrian people smuggler jailed over deaths of Syrians in minivan

The bodies of the two men were discovered last October when Austrian authorities stopped and searched a van at the border with Hungary.

Thirty people in total were crammed in the vehicle, whose driver fled the scene but was later arrested in Latvia and extradited.

The 19-year-old Latvian was found guilty of people smuggling and causing fatal injuries, but was not found guilty of murder, APA reported.

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He said he would accept the verdict, but the prosecution can still appeal it, APA said.

A court spokeswoman could not immediately be reached by AFP. 

Austria’s interior ministry announced in May that police had smashed a group believed to have smuggled tens of thousands of mostly Syrians, including the two found suffocated, from Hungary to Austria.

A total of 205 people suspected to be linked to the group have been arrested in central and eastern Europe, the ministry said.

Those smuggled, including children, were trying to reach western European countries, including Germany and France.

The October discovery of the dead men recalled a dire event in August 2015 when 71 people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan suffocated in the back of an air-tight van where they had been hidden by people smugglers.

The bodies, including those of three children and a baby, were discovered in Austria but they had died while still on the other side of the border.

Almost four years later, the Hungarian courts sentenced their smugglers to life imprisonment.

The emotion aroused by that tragedy triggered a brief opening of the borders to hundreds of thousands of people wishing to reach Western Europe.

But Austria and other European countries have since fortified borders to stop people smuggling.