Migrant smugglers use private planes to do business

With the support of Eurojust and Europol, judicial and law enforcement authorities from Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and the United States dismantled a criminal network involved in migrant smuggling, document fraud and money laundering.

The migrants, who were mainly Iraqis and Iranians of Kurdish origin, boarded private planes in Turkey using fake diplomatic passports. However, they never reached their official travel destinations (usually the Caribbean). During stopovers at various European airports, including in Austria, France and Germany, migrants were removed from the plane, had their false passports removed and had to systematically apply for asylum. The suspects charged up to €20,000 per person for smuggling.

According to police investigations, at least five smuggling operations took place between October and December 2020 in five different European countries. In addition, several plans were prepared to carry out other smuggling operations.

As well as migrant smuggling and identity document forgery, the organized crime group is also suspected of issuing fake checks and scamming airlines in an attempt to build its own fleet. The suspects also allegedly defrauded hotels by failing to pay several invoices.

The action day on 13 September of this year resulted in:

  • 5 arrests (2 in Belgium and 3 in Italy)
  • 7 house searches (1 in Belgium and 6 in Italy)
  • Seizures of 2 planes, 80,000 euros, 1 high-end car, electronic equipment and equipment for forging identity documents (such as card printers, stamps, holograms, and white plastic cards)
  • 173,000 frozen in Italy

Eurojust supported the authorities involved in the creation and funding of a joint investigation team (JIT) in June 2021. Eurojust also hosted four coordination meetings to facilitate judicial cooperation and support coordinated investigative efforts.

Europol, for its part, prioritised the case at an early stage and assigned an analyst and a specialist, dedicated to supporting national investigations to identify the members of the criminal network and dismantle it.

Europol also facilitated the exchange of operational information and provided analytical and financial support. On the action day, Europol activated a virtual command post to enable real-time information exchange. It also deployed three analysts, one in Belgium and two in Italy, to cross-check operational information against Europol databases to provide further investigative leads to participating national law enforcement authorities.


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