A police patrol in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 22, 2021. AP
Police in Lower Austria province said they opened an investigation last month into the group that smuggled migrants from the Serbian-Hungarian border via Slovakia and the Czech Republic to Austria's northeastern corner. They were dropped off north of Vienna.
The 15 suspected smugglers, citizens of Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, were arrested mostly in checks in mid-November on suspicious vehicles as well as at a Vienna hotel, police said in a statement. All of them tried to flee when they were stopped.
They allegedly loaded 12 to 15 people into the cars and vans used for the journeys, with the back seats removed and the back windows sprayed over.
The suspects transported more than 700 people at a total cost of more than 2.5 million euros ($2.8 million), police said. The migrants were charged 4,000-5,000 euros per person for the trip, and said they planned to continue to Germany, either by train, or being picked up by relatives.
The alleged smugglers were recruited in their home countries via ads on social media offering work as drivers for 2,000-3,000 euros a month.