Pakistani smuggling network busted in Romania

A cross-border investigation led by the Romanian Police (Poliția Română), supported by Europol and involving the Austrian Police (Landeskriminalamt Salzburg) and the Italian Carabinieri Corps (Arma dei Carabinieri), has resulted in the dismantling of an organised crime group involved in migrant smuggling. The group arranged the illegal arrival in Romania of migrants via fraudulently obtained work visas, before facilitating their further illegal movements towards other EU countries.

Results from 24 April 2024

  • 29 locations searched (2 in Austria, 6 in Italy and 21 in Romania),
  • 12 arrests in Romania,
  • Seizures including: luxury cars, electronic equipment, documents and the equivalent of over EUR 146 000 in cash in different currencies.

Visa fraud to enable smuggling of migrants from Pakistan to the EU
The criminal network was composed mainly of Romanian and Pakistani nationals, who had established companies in Romania. The suspects allegedly brought Bengali, Egyptian and Pakistani nationals to Romania with work visas, fraudulently obtained by misleading the competent authorities. The investigation identified other Romanian companies, managed by Romanian nationals cooperating with the criminal network, which were also used for fraudulently acquiring work permits and visas. The criminal network requested 509 work permits in total from Romania and acquired permits for 102 migrants. The migrants used these fraudulently obtained visas to illegally enter Romania. Investigative leads suggest that 76 migrants who arrived in Romania using these fraudulent documents have then made secondary movements to other EU countries. During the investigation, 26 migrants were detected in Romania, Italy and Austria. The criminal network charged between EUR 5 000 and EUR 6 000 per person to arrange the arrival to Romania and another EUR 2 000 to EUR 5 000 per migrant for the secondary movement to another EU country. The criminal network is believed to have gained at least EUR 1 million illegal profits.

Members of the network based in Pakistan were responsible for the local recruitment of migrants who wanted to reach the EU. Other members of the criminal network arranged the accommodation of migrants in different locations in Brasov and Bucharest before further transporting them to the area of Timisoara. From there, other accomplices picked up the migrants and transported to the Romanian-Hungarian border, where the migrants illegally crossed green borders on foot or hidden in various means of transport. National authorities detected a number of migrants smuggled by this network while they were crossing the borders or directly in the territory of other EU states, mostly in Italy and Austria. In one of the cases in Italy, the Italian authorities detected 45 irregular migrants on foot along the Italian-Slovenian border.

Cross-border cooperation
Europol supported the investigation within the framework of the operational plan signed with Romania in regards to the Ukrainian crisis. Europol facilitated the exchange of information and provided operational coordination and analytical support. On the action day, Europol deployed one analyst to Italy and one to Romania to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases and to provide leads to investigators in the field.

A joint investigation team (JIT) was set up between the Italy, Romania and Europol with the support of Eurojust in April 2024. Eurojust gave additional cross-border judicial support during the action day.