Europol takes down people smuggling ring

Law enforcement authorities in Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and the United States dismantled a criminal network involved in migrant smuggling, document fraud and money laundering, Europol, the EU's police agency, reported on Friday.

The migrants, mainly Iraqis and Iranians of Kurdish origin, boarded private aircraft in Turkey carrying false diplomatic passports. However, the official destinations of the trips (usually the Caribbean) were never reached.

Eurojust (EU Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation) and Europol supported the action, said Europol in a statement at the Hague where it is based.

During the stopovers at different European airports, including in Austria, France and Germany, the migrants left the plane, disposed of their false passports and systematically applied for asylum. The suspects charged up to €20,000 per smuggled person.

It is believed that, between October and December 2020, at least five smuggling operations took place in five different European countries.

In addition to migrant smuggling and forging identity documents, the organised crime group is also suspected of issuing false checks and scamming airlines in an attempt to build its own fleet. The suspects also allegedly defrauded hotels by not paying invoices.

Five arrests were made, two in Belgium and three in Italy, as well as two aircraft, €80,000, and equipment to forge ID documents, were also seized.

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