On 2 December Europol supported a large-scale joint operation carried out by law enforcement and judicial authorities from Austria, Greece, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The international case, coordinated by judicial authorities in Thessaloniki (Greece), targeted an organised crime group suspected of smuggling people into the European Union.
Several actions took place simultaneously in all the aforementioned EU Member States. As a result, the criminal group was dismantled, and a total of 23 suspects were arrested: 7 in Austria, 13 in Greece, 2 in Sweden and 1 in the United Kingdom. The identified smugglers were predominantly of Syrian and Greek origin, but also Palestinian.
Europol specialists and senior officers from participating law enforcement authorities coordinated these actions from Europol headquarters in The Hague. Europol supported the operation by performing cross-checks and real time analysis of data sent by officers in the field.
The organised crime group is believed to have smuggled irregular migrants (mainly Syrians) from Turkey, then facilitated their journeys from Greece to other EU Member States via the Balkan route (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and further northwards). The transport was generally carried out by Greek nationals, who were coordinated by an Albanian national. This individual was also identified as working in close cooperation with the alleged head of the organised crime group.
The alleged members of the criminal network had set up a ‘headquarters’ in Greece, where migrants – either located in Turkey or on their way to Greece – would contact them for further assistance with their journeys to Northern Europe. All forms of assistance could be provided ranging from transport and supplying forged travel documents, to housing. The migrants paid the facilitators via money-transfer services or with cash. As well as communicating by mobile phone, the suspects attempted to keep a low profile and elude capture by making use of social media channels and online communication platforms.
This organised crime group is believed to have smuggled around 100 migrants per day and been active since 2013. According to intelligence gathered so far, the total estimated earnings of the group are nearly EUR 10 million.
During the action day, the organised crime group’s alleged leader was arrested by officers from the UK’s National Crime Agency at an address in Liverpool. He had previously lived in different European countries.
Europol supported the investigation from its early stages, by facilitating the exchange of intelligence between the involved Member States, providing tailored analytical support to the investigators, and by financing and hosting operational meetings.