Four key sus­pects in Hun­gary mi­grant truck deaths jailed

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD -

KECSKEMET, Hun­gary: The four main sus­pects in­volved in the grue­some deaths of 71 mi­grants in a truck on an Aus­trian high­way in 2015 were jailed for 25 years Thurs­day, in a case that sparked in­ter­na­tional re­vul­sion.

The rul­ing fol­lowed a year­long trial in Hun­gary, which took over the pro­ceed­ings from Vi­enna af­ter it emerged that the mi­grants had suf­fo­cated on Hungarian soil.

Pros­e­cu­tors, who had asked for life terms with­out pa­role, im­me­di­ately ap­pealed the sen­tence af­ter the rul­ing, ar­gu­ing it was too le­nient.

The men were al­legedly mem­bers of a traf­fick­ing gang based in Bu­dapest that smug­gled more than 1,200 peo­ple into Western Eu­rope at the height of the con­ti­nent’s 2015 mi­grant cri­sis.

Ten other sus­pects were also found guilty over the deaths and handed prison sen­tences of up to 12 years by the court in the south­ern town of Kecskemet. Three were tried in ab­sen­tia. The bod­ies of the 59 men, eight women and four chil­dren – in­clud­ing a baby girl – were al­ready in an ad­vanced state of de­com­po­si­tion when they were dis­cov­ered in an aban­doned poul­try re­frig­er­a­tor lorry on Aug. 27, 2017.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions showed they had been dead for two days, suf­fo­cat­ing shortly af­ter be­ing picked up in Hun­gary, then a key tran­sit coun­try on the Balkan mi­grant trail.

The ring­leader, a young Afghan, and the other sus­pects de­nied know­ing that the mi­grants were dy­ing in the back. But ev­i­dence pre­sented to the court in­di­cated they had been aware of what was hap­pen­ing.

“The four main ac­cused knew that in­ac­tion on their part could lead to the deaths of the vic­tims,” Judge Janos Jadi said in Thurs­day’s rul­ing.

“It’s clear that the de­fen­dants were well-aware that these ve­hi­cles were not suited for hu­man pas­sen­gers, this is tor­ture un­der the law even if the pas­sen­gers were not beaten by the smug­glers.”

The vic­tims were all from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hungarian of­fi­cials said the ring was a pro­fes­sional net­work with more than 15 ve­hi­cles used to trans­port refugees who were trekking up from Greece along the western Balkans to Eu­rope. The gang had smug­gled more than 1,100 peo­ple from Hun­gary into Aus­tria since Fe­bru­ary 2015, charg­ing up to 1,500 eu­ros ($1,760) a head.

In court, the de­fen­dants de­nied know­ing that their hu­man cargo was dy­ing.

Ring­leader Sam­soor La­hoo, him­self a young Afghan of 31 who had fled his coun­try, told the court in a fi­nal state­ment that he “had not wanted any­one’s death.”

But po­lice tele­phone in­ter­cepts of calls re­vealed he had or­dered the truck driv­ers not to open the doors.

“Let them die in­stead. That’s an or­der,” La­hoo al­legedly said in one of the calls.

“If they die, let him dump them in a for­est in Ger­many,” he added.

Chal­lenged with this ev­i­dence, La­hoo told the court they were sim­ply “thought­less re­marks.”

For Pros­e­cu­tor Ga­bor Sch­midt, La­hoo showed only “end­less greed” and “fright­en­ing in­dif­fer­ence” to mi­grants des­per­ate to get to Eu­rope.

“The rul­ing does not suf­fi­ciently re­flect the se­ri­ous­ness of the crime.” –

Pros­e­cu­tors im­me­di­ately ap­pealed the sen­tence, ar­gu­ing it was too le­nient.

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