Migrant smugglers using private aircraft 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. 

Up to EUR 20 000 for a place in private aircraft

The migrants, mainly Iraqi and Iranian of Kurdish origin, boarded private aircrafts 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, 1 high-end car, electronic equipment, and equipment to forge ID documents (such as card printers, stamps, holograms and white plastic cards)   
  • EUR 173 000 frozen in Italy

Eurojust supported the authorities involved with the setting up and funding of a joint investigation team (JIT) in June 2021. Eurojust 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 to 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, thus providing further investigative leads to the participating national law enforcement authorities.