An investigation by the Bulgarian General Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, the Hellenic Police and the Hungarian National Police, supported by Europol and Eurojust, led to the dismantling of an organized crime group involved in migrant smuggling.
The leaders of the gang were arrested during the recent action day on July 21, which resulted in simultaneous raids in Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary; 15 location searches; 12 suspects arrested (6 in Bulgaria, 5 in Greece and 1 in Hungary); and seizures including 25 vehicles (including 15 high-end cars), electronic equipment (laptops, GPS devices, tablets), more than 40 mobile phones, more than 100 SIM cards, crypto-mining equipment and cash.
The criminal network was smuggling migrants from Turkey to Greece through the Evros border region. During two years of investigation, law enforcement authorities detected more than 100 high-end cars serving the criminal activity, of which 66 were seized before the action day. The criminal group used vehicles which had been registered in Bulgaria and sometimes in Georgia. The cars were then transported to Northern Greece and Hungary, where they were used to smuggle migrants while driving at up to 250 kilometers per hour to avoid police detection.
The suspects were collecting between €2,000 and €2,500 per person for the journey, and were transporting up to 15 migrants at a time. Both migrants and smugglers were injured in several speeding incidents. While the smugglers were racing with police at dangerous speeds, migrants were also concealed in the trunks of the vehicles. In the course of the investigation, 43 smugglers were arrested before the action day, while 1 smuggler died in a car accident. In total, 442 migrants were smuggled, of which 13 were injured.
Northern Greece is an important hub for migrant smuggling due to the reinforced border protection along the Evros river. Following the crisis situation at Evros in February 2020, several mass migratory movement attempts were disrupted.
The operation was carried out under the umbrella of the Greek National Operational Plan signed by Europol and the Hellenic Police in June 2016. The aim of the plan is to disrupt organized criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling and to reinforce secondary security controls in migration hotspots.
Europol facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical support. On the action day, Europol deployed two experts on the spot to enable the real-time exchange of information between investigators, Europol and Eurojust, and to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases, providing leads to investigators in the field.