Five alleged smugglers have been arrested in Rome and Brussels for their role in bringing migrants from Turkey to Europe on private jets. Two others are reported to still be on the run.
The suspects are now in custody under warrants issued by Belgian authorities, and stand accused of being part of to a criminal gang that supports irregular form of migration to make financial profits for itself. That's according to the dpa news agency, which also reported that the suspects are accused of money laundering, among other charges.
Authorities said they provided migrants with fake diplomatic papers from the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. They would then put them on an aircraft in Turkey, heading to St. Kitts and Nevis -- with an unexpected stopover in Europe. Upon landing at a European airport, the migrants would leave the plane, destroy the fake documents and declare their real identity, while filing for asylum.
Investigators documented five separate such landings in Italy, Germany, France, Austria and Belgium each between October and December 2020. Each migrant reportedly paid about €10,000 for the journey. In some instances, according to the Belgian police, the smugglers would ask for up to €20,000.
Italian authorities described the irregular migrants as mostly ethnic Kurds or Iraqis.
The EU agencies Europol and Eurojust helped the investigation move forward along with various US authorities, news agency Reuters reported. The suspects were arrested following joint operations in the five European countries.
Police chief Costantino Scudieri told the Reuters that four men and a woman were arrested in total. An Italian and two Egyptians were detained in Rome, while an Egyptian man and a Tunisian woman were arrested in Brussels.
Two more suspects reportedly remain on the run and are assumed to be in Italy and Belgium, respectively. As part of the investigation, Belgian police also seized two private jets worth €426,000.
with Reuters, dpa