Authorities in Austria, Germany, Hungary and Romania have dismantled a particularly violent family-based criminal network that exploited homeless people.
An investigation by the Upper Austrian Regional Criminal Office (Landeskriminalamt Oberösterreich), the Austrian Federal Police (Bundeskriminalamt), the German Bavarian State Police (Polizei Bayern), the Hungarian National Police (Magyar Rendorseg) and the Romanian Police (Poliția Română), with the support of Europol and Eurojust, led officers to dismantle an organised crime group involved in human trafficking for forced begging. The criminal network was particularly violent and abused extremely vulnerable individuals.
Thanks to the investigations, a police action day was held in early April of this year, which resulted in the following:
- 7 locations searched (1 in Austria, 2 in Germany, 1 in Hungary and 3 in Romania).
- 4 arrests (1 in Germany, 1 in Hungary, 1 in Austria and 1 in Romania).
- Seizures of telephones and other electronic devices, more than €90,000 in cash and 9,400 RON in cash, as well as 1 kg of gold.
- Two victims, who died during the operation of the criminal network.
Since 2017, national authorities in the four countries in question have been investigating this organised crime group based on family ties. This has included the investigation of group members of Romanian and Hungarian origin who trafficked and exploited people, with victims in Austria and Germany. The victims of Hungarian and Romanian origin were particularly vulnerable as a result of alcohol addiction and homelessness.
These people were forced to beg at specific locations in various cities, such as the German cities of Ingolstadt, Nuremberg and Berlin and the Austrian cities of Feldkirch, Linz, Bad Hall and Stayer. They were totally dependent on the criminal network and their documents were seized upon arrival in foreign countries where they did not speak the language. The criminal network provided them with a sandwich or just enough alcohol to survive the day, while earning more than 200,000 euros from the victims’ activities. These individuals were subjected to inhumane treatment and living environments and suffered violent behaviour at the hands of the suspects.
Two of the victims died from health-related problems while being exploited in extremely degrading conditions. The criminal gang also forced an equally vulnerable person to work at their house and treated them as a domestic slave.
Europol facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical support in this investigation. On the action day, Europol deployed a virtual command post to enable real-time information exchange between investigators, Europol and Eurojust.
Eurojust had set up a joint investigation team between Germany, Hungary, Romania and Europol in 2021.
In 2017, the European Council decided to continue the EU policy cycle for the 2018-2021 period. It aims to address the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU member states, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. There are currently ten EMPACT priorities. As of 2022, the mechanism becomes permanent under the name EMPACT 2022+.