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Indictment issued in case of deaths of 71 refugees

History

The Prosecutorʼs Office of Bács-Kiskun County issued an indictment at the Kecskemét Court of Justice for charges of aggravated homicide and human smuggling committed by an organized criminal group of 11 men of Afghan, Bulgarian and Lebanese citizenship, according to a press statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal on Thursday.

Four men were initially arrested in connection with the deaths of 71 refugees found in the back of a truck that had apparently traveled from Hungary and was abandoned in Austria. The men - three Bulgarians and an Afghan, thought to be the leader - face charges of human trafficking, torture and participating in organized crime.

The criminal human-smuggling gang is officially accused of being directed by a 30-year-old Afghan man (L.) who allegedly provided the money necessary for the operation and, with the help of his accomplices, organized the transportation of immigrants who had crossed the Serbian-Hungarian border illegally to Western Europe, according to the press statement.

A 31-year-old Bulgarian citizen (M.) is thought to have overseen the Bulgarian drivers and also participated as an organizer in the activity of the criminal group, as did a 51-year-old dual Bulgarian-Lebanese national (K.), who obtained the vehicles and the temporary registration plates, according to the charges. The rest of the defendants took part in the crime as drivers and “forerunners” accompanying the facilitating vehicles, the press statement says.

The criminal organization operated from February until August 27, 2015, transporting immigrants to Germany or Austria on a daily basis from June onward. The statement by the Prosecutorʼs Office mentions 31 trips in the indictment, during which people were often carried “in closed, dark and airless vans unsuitable for passenger transport, in crowded, inhuman, excruciating conditions.” With these transports, the international criminal group moved more than 1,200 people to Western Europe illegally. The Afghan gang boss was said to have earned at least EUR 300,000 through this activity.

Locked in airless truck, cries ignored

According to the indictment, on August 26, 2015 at around 5 a.m. near Mórahalom, close to the Serbian-Hungarian border, the members of the criminal gang locked 71 refugees – 59 men, eight women and four children – in a dark and unventilated refrigerator truck whose doors could not be opened from the inside, and set off to transport them to Austria along motorways M5, M0 and M1. It is thought that the truck, which started its journey from Kecskemét to pick up the migrants, was driven by a 25-year-old Bulgarian citizen (I.) and accompanied by a 38-year-old Bulgarian citizen (T.) as a forerunner. Prior to this occasion, both men had performed several tasks for the criminal gang, according to the press statement.

“Approximately half an hour after departure, the migrants indicated with bangs and cries that they were running out of oxygen. The signals were heard by the driver and the forerunner also. Through their Bulgarian boss, they reported the problem to the Afghan head of the criminal organization, who ordered them several times not to open the door of the load area, to ignore the people suffocating there and to reach Western Europe as soon as possible. Even though they could have helped the victims, the driver and the forerunner complied with the instructions of their boss and the Afghan leader. As a result, the 71 victims locked in the load area suffocated in horrendous conditions [within] three hours from departure in the territory of Hungary. After crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border, I. and T. left the refrigerator truck on the hard shoulder of highway A4, near Parndorf, and returned to Hungary using the forerunner vehicle,” the press statement sent to the BBJ said in describing the tragic events.

Among the defendants of this top-priority case, a total of nine people smugglers are awaiting trial in preliminary custody, while in the case of two other defendants the Prosecutorʼs Office has filed a motion for holding a trial in their absence, the press release adds.

All of the defendants are accused of the felony of human smuggling committed within the framework of an organized criminal group, partly in a business-like manner, including the torture of the smuggled persons, the statement adds.

Besides this, the four defendants who participated directly in the “death lorry” transport (L., M., I. and T.) are charged with the additional felony of homicide committed with particular cruelty against more than one person, among them persons under the age of 14, according to the press statement.

M. and another Bulgarian smuggler who took part in a transport on the day following the “death lorry” event are also charged with 67 counts of life-threatening battery. The Prosecutorʼs Office has proposed life imprisonment for the principal four defendants, and fixed-term imprisonment for the others in a maximum-security facility and expulsion from Hungary.

The final decision on the culpability of the defendants will be made by the Kecskemét Court of Justice.

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