Eurojust – Migrant smugglers using private aircrafts grounded in Belgium and Italy.

Supported by Eurojust and Europol, judicial and 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.

Private plane sized
© Belgian authorities

Up to EUR 20 000 for a place in private aircraft

The migrants, mainly Iraqi and Iranian of Kurdish origin, boarded private aircraft in Türkiye carrying false diplomatic passports. However, the official destinations of the trips (usually the Caribbean) were never reached. 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 EUR 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, several plans were made to carry out other smuggling operations. 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 the invoices.

The action day on 13 September led to:

  • 5 arrests (2 in Belgium and 3 in Italy)
  • 7 house searches (1 in Belgium and 6 in Italy)
  • Seizures of 2 aircraft, EUR 80 000 EUR cash, 1 high–end car, electronic equipment, and equipment to forge ID documents (card printers, stamps, holograms, and white plastic cards)
  • EUR 173 000 EUR frozen in Italy

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

Europol prioritised the case at an early stage, assigning a dedicated analyst and specialist to support the national investigations to identify the members of the criminal network and dismantle it. Europol facilitated the operational information exchange and provided analytical and financial support. On the action day, Europol activated a Virtual Command Post to facilitate the information exchange in real-time. Europol also deployed three analysts – one to Belgium and two to Italy – to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases and thus provided further investigative leads to the participating national law enforcement authorities.

Law enforcement authorities involved:

  • Austria: Criminal Intelligence Service Austria (Bundeskriminalamt), Provincial CID of Tyrol (Landeskriminalamt Tirol) and Schwechat City Command of the Federal Police (Stadtpolizeikommando Schwechat)
  • Belgium: Belgian Federal Police (Federale Politie, Police Fédérale), Aviation Police Wevelgem
  • France: French Border Police (OCRIEST/Police Aux Frontières)
  • Germany: German Federal Police Munich Airport
  • Italy: National Police (Polizia di Stato: Servizio Centrale Operativo, Squadra Mobile di Bari e Roma, Servizio di Polizia Scientifica, and Ufficio di Polizia di Frontiera di Bari)
  • United States: U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs, and Border Protection, U.S. Diplomatic Security Service.

Judicial authorities involved:

  • Austria: Public Prosecutor Offices of Korneuburg
  • Belgium: Examining Magistrate Brussels, Federal Prosecutor’s Office
  • France: Examining Magistrate of Tribunal Judiciaire de Créteil
  • Germany: Landshut Public Prosecutor’s Office
  • Italy: Public Prosecutor Offices of Bari and Rome
  • United States: U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia