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.

A generic image of an Austrian police car seen in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP
A generic image of an Austrian police car seen in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

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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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 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.