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CRIME

Austrian ‘gun smuggler’ freed from Cairo jail

An Austrian man has been released from a prison in Cairo where he was held for almost five years, after being found guilty of trying to smuggle weapons into Egypt.

Austrian 'gun smuggler' freed from Cairo jail
Führinger in court in Cairo. Photo: ORF

Hannes Führinger from Burgenland was flown to Vienna airport on Tuesday morning.

He had served only two thirds of his sentence but was unexpectedly freed by Egyptian authorities, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Thomas Schnöll.

His lawyers and his wife had made frequent attempts to secure his release and get him extradited to Austria. Schnöll said that diplomatic negotiations had been tough but had finally achieved the desired result.

He said it was one of the most difficult cases the Foreign Ministry has ever had to handle, with more than 50 prison visits, a letter from Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) to his Egyptian counterpart, and a determined effort from the embassy.

During his time in prison Führinger became very ill, but Schnöll said that his health is currently stable although his time in an Egyptian prison had had an enormous psychological impact.

His mother told Austrian media that he was beaten in prison and went on hunger strike, and that conditions in the prison were unbearable. 

Führinger worked for a private security firm, and was detained in November 2011 after he travelled to Egypt with four guns and 200 rounds of ammunition – which he declared on his departure, saying he needed them for a job guarding an Italian cargo ship.

He was charged with “illegally importing unlicensed weapons, ammunition and telescopes into the country and hiding the goods in order to avoid customs duties” and sentenced to seven years in jail.

CRIME

Austrian police smash people smuggling ring

Police have smashed a group believed to have smuggled tens of thousands of people with two of them found suffocated in a truck last year, Austria's interior ministry announced on Thursday.

Austrian police smash people smuggling ring

A total of 205 people suspected to be linked to the group have been arrested in central and eastern Europe, while 80 vehicles have been seized, Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said.

Of the arrests, 92 of them were in Austria, and the rest in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

Investigators, who began looking into the case early last year, believe the group smuggled more than 36,100 people, including children, from Hungary to Austria.

With this they raked in an estimated 152 million euros ($159 million), making this the biggest operation uncovered in Austria in recent years, according to Karner.

“This is an important success against organised crime and a serious blow to the smuggler mafia,” Karner said in a statement. Those smuggled were trying to reach western European countries, including Germany and France.

They were brought to Vienna and then smuggled on through other groups, the statement said. In one incident linked to the group, the bodies of two people were discovered last October when Austrian authorities stopped and searched a van at the border with Hungary.

Twenty-seven others were crammed in the vehicle, whose driver fled the scene, but has since been arrested in Latvia and extradited, according to the ministry. In another incident in January linked to the group, an alleged smuggler fired at an army conscript when troops tried to stop his vehicle. The man has since been arrested in Hungary. Austria this week once again extended border controls on its frontiers with Hungary and Slovenia.

Such controls provide authorities “with important insights into smuggling organisations and their procedures,” Karner said.

The European Court of Justice in April criticised Austria’s long-term controls on its border to Slovenia. It ruled that EU member states can only prolong border controls when “confronted with a new serious threat affecting its public order or its internal security”.

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