Crime Files Network

Archive for August, 2015

Forensic police officers inspect the truck parked on an Austrian highway.image

Forensic police officers inspect the truck parked on an Austrian highway. Photo: Reuters

Vienna: The partly decomposing bodies of as many as 50 people assumed to be migrants being smuggled across Europe were found in a truck abandoned on a highway east of Vienna on Thursday.

The precise toll was yet to be determined, said Hans-Peter Doskozil, director of police in the eastern state of Burgenland, during a live news conference on Austria’s public broadcaster

Some of the bodies in the truck had started to decompose, investigators said image

Some of the bodies in the truck had started to decompose, investigators said. Photo: AP

Doskozil said the bodies, some of which had started to decompose, had been discovered when the truck was opened after the police noticed it parked off the highway that links Budapest and Vienna. He declined to give further details.

Doskozil said the Austrian police had contacted the authorities in neighbouring Hungary, where the authorities have accelerated the building of a fence along the border with Serbia, in an effort to block the flow of tens of thousands of migrants who have worked their way up the length of the Balkans in recent weeks.

The border fence has threatened to complicate and even cut off what has become an increasingly accessible route for the migrants, many of whom are fleeing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel-We are all shaken by this terrible news image

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “We are all shaken by this terrible news.” Photo: Bloomberg

In recent interviews, humanitarian aid workers and the migrants themselves said the fence would not stop the migrants but would force them to find other ways to make it to wealthy European Union countries farther north, often with the help of human traffickers.

The grisly discovery coincided with the start of a conference in Vienna on how to make the Balkans more secure and prosperous, partly as a means to stop the flight of thousands seeking better economic conditions in Austria, Germany and other, more wealthy parts of the European Union.

The conference is being attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and Balkan heads of government.

Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann expressed sorrow over the deaths and said they were a chilling reminder of the need to give shelter to migrants fleeing war.

“We are all shaken by this terrible news that up to 50 people have lost their lives because they got into a situation where smugglers did not care about their lives,” Merkel said.

“Such a tragic death,” she added, emphasising the need for Europe to pull together and ease the current crisis, part of the biggest wave of migrants since World War II.

In his remarks, Faymann said, “This shows once more how necessary it is to save lives and to fight people smugglers.”

“Those who look back to World War II history know that there were people who depended then on asylum” to survive. Today, too, “it saves lives,” he added.

Gerald Tatzgern, who leads an Austrian police team responsible for fighting human trafficking, said police had secured the site where the truck was found. But he said it would take several days for forensics teams to sift through the evidence and, potentially, learn more about the identities of those found dead.

Police are still searching for anyone who might have information about the truck, which had Hungarian licence plates and was found abandoned in an emergency area beside a highway in the Neusiedl am See region, near the Hungarian border.

The Austrian authorities said they were working with the Hungarian police to try to find the driver, who is believed to be from Hungary.

Images in Austrian news media showed a white vehicle, with a rear cooler compartment emblazoned with the word “Hyza” in brown letters, with a chicken standing in for the letter “y”, surrounded by police cars parked at the side of the freeway.

A Slovak-based company by the name of Hyza told the Austrian news agency APA that it had sold more than a dozen of its vehicles in 2014 but had no further knowledge about them.

Austria’s interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, called it a “dark day,” and urged everyone across the 28-nation European Union to move harshly against human traffickers.

“These are not well-minded helpers,” she said. “They are not concerned with the welfare of the migrants. They care only about profit.”

The discovery of the truck not only threatened to overshadow the conference but also highlighted the continuing divides and dysfunction of the European Union in handling a migration crisis that is straining resources.

Mogherini gave the strongest voice to Europe’s need to act to stop such deaths, “moving from the blame game to real cooperation.”

There is “no magic solution, but the road we can follow to start making things work is very well known,” she said.

“We understand very well that we cannot continue like this – with a moment of silence every time we see someone dying,” she said.

syria refugees image
Henry Sapiecha

Ross Ulbricht, 31, who has been sentenced to life in prison image

Ross Ulbricht, 31, who has been sentenced to life in prison.

The American convicted of masterminding the criminal website Silk Road has been sentenced in court to life in prison over the online enterprise that sold $US200 million ($261 million) in drugs to customers worldwide.

It was the maximum possible punishment for Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted in February by a jury on seven counts of narcotics trafficking, criminal enterprise, computer hacking and money laundering.

The 31-year-old with a graduate degree displayed no emotion on Friday as he stood in dark prison scrubs to hear his fate read by US Federal Judge Katherine Forrest, as his devoted parents sat in the packed gallery.

Lyn Ulbricht, mother of Ross Ulbricht, speaks to journalists outside court image
Lyn Ulbricht, mother of Ross Ulbricht, speaks to journalists outside court. Photo: ReutersUlbricht, who ran Silk Road under the alias “Dread Pirate Roberts” and was alleged to have commissioned five murders at a cost of $US650,000 ($850,000) but never charged for them, was sentenced to two life sentences for narcotics distribution and criminal enterprise.
AdvertisementHe also received the maximum sentence of five, 15 and 20 years for hacking, trafficking in false documents and money laundering convictions.

In the gallery, his mother put her head in her hand.
Silk Road website shows thumbnails for products allegedly available through the site.image

This frame grab from the Silk Road website shows thumbnails for products allegedly available through the site.

It was a stunning fall from privilege for Ulbricht, who the government said amassed $US13 million ($17 million) in commissions by making the purchase of heroin, cocaine and crystal meth as easy as shopping online at eBay or Amazon.

Prosecutors said the narcotics-trafficking enterprise resulted in at least six drug-related deaths.

Crimes were ‘unprecedented’

“You should serve your life in prison,” Forrest told Ulbricht, saying there was no parole in the US federal system.

“What you did was unprecedented,” she said. “You have to pay the consequences of this.”

Forrest said the court also sought the forfeiture of more than $US183.9 million ($240 million) in Silk Road drug profits.

The parents of a 25-year-old Boston man and a 16-year-old Australian schoolboy, who both died after ingesting drugs obtained from Silk Road, spoke of their devastating loss.

“I strongly believe my son would be here today if Ross Ulbricht had never created Silk Road,” said one of the parents, identified only as Richard.

But Ulbricht made little mention of their anguish, sniffing and sobbing his way through a self-pitying statement before the court.

He told Forrest that he wanted to “tell you about myself from my perspective”, and denied that he was greedy and vain.

He also promised that he now respected the law and would never break it again if released.

“I’m not a self-centered, sociopathic person… I just made some very serious mistakes.”

His four-week trial had been considered a landmark case in the murky world of online crime and government surveillance.

Given the significant public interest in the case, Forrest said his sentence had to serve as a deterrent to anyone looking to step into his shoes, and must reflect the severity of his crimes and protect society.

Right to appeal

The defence had requested the mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and Ulbricht has the right to appeal.

The sentence was the maximum possible under US federal law on each count – tougher even more than the lengthy sentence sought by government prosecutors.

Forrest read from chilling online messages and journal entries that she said showed Ulbricht had displayed “arrogance”, knew exactly what he was doing and had an escape plan to flee the country.

“I’m running a goddamn multimillion-dollar criminal enterprise,” she read out.

His own writings proved that he was “callous as to the consequences and the harm and suffering it may cause others”, she said.

The government said Silk Road conducted 50,000 sales of heroin, 80,000 sales of cocaine and 30,000 of methamphetamine – highly addictive and dangerous drugs.

Forrest said Ulbricht was no better than a common drug dealer and blind to the collateral damage to society caused by expanding the drugs market.

“I don’t know you feel a lot of remorse for the people you hurt. I don’t know you know you hurt a lot of people.”

She said she found “profoundly moving” the nearly 100 letters written from family and friends testifying to a kind, intelligent and loved friend, saying that he was a “very complex” person.

Ulbricht created the Silk Road in January 2011, and owned and operated the underground site until it was shut down by the FBI in October 2013, when he was arrested in a San Francisco library.

The government called it “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the internet” used by vendors in more than 10 countries in North America and Europe.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Ulbricht commissioned five murders at a cost of $US650,000 ($850,000). He was accused of these murders by law-enforcement but was never charged for them.



Budapest: President Vladimir Putin has sparked outrage not only from dissidents but from ordinary Russians and usually loyal supporters with an order that smuggled Western food should be “incinerated on the spot”.

Kremlin adviser Yevgeny Bobrov​ described the order as “high-handed” and analysts said it could go down badly in a country where a third of the population still lived in poverty.

Illegally imported food is destroyed in the Belgorod region, Russia image
Illegally imported food is destroyed in the Belgorod region, Russia, on Thursday.Russians have been used for a year to seeing “cheese-like substance” rather than real cheddar on the supermarket shelves since President Putin declared an embargo on EU imports in retaliation for Western sanctions over Ukraine. But the order to actually destroy food came as a shock to many.
AdvertisementRussians were signing an online petition calling for the food to be given to the needy. “Why should we destroy food that could feed veterans, pensioners, the disabled, those with large families or those who have suffered from natural disasters?” said the appeal to the government.

President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, already embroiled in a scandal about the expensive watch he wore at his recent wedding, struck a note of “let them eat cake” indifference when he questioned whether the signatures on the petition had been verified.
President Vladimir Putin's order to destroy illegally imported food was implemented in the Belgorod region image

President Vladimir Putin’s order to destroy illegally imported food was implemented in the Belgorod region on Thursday.

But there was no doubt about the identity of Vladimir Solovyov, a usually pro-Kremlin television host, who tweeted: “I don’t understand how a country that lived through the horrible hunger of the war and terrible years after the Revolution can destroy food.”

Solovyov hit the mark with this comment, for food occupies an almost sacred place in Russian culture.

Those who survived the wartime Siege of Leningrad (today’s St Petersburg), when the starving licked glue from the back of wallpaper for the protein, taught their children and grandchildren that it was a sin to throw away even a crust of stale bread. The message was reinforced by the Orthodox Church.

Members of Eat the Russian food movement check food at a Moscow food store image

Members of “Eat the Russian food” movement check food at a Moscow food store this week. Photo: AP

One Russian wrote on Facebook: “My mother used to smack me if I wasted a piece of bread. She would cut out the bit where I’d left my teeth marks and save the rest of the slice for the next meal.”

For many, the President’s draconian measure will be all the harder to comprehend given than Mr Putin himself came from a poor family in St Petersburg. He claims now to be a devout Orthodox Christian and has repeatedly sought to bolster his power by evoking the wartime spirit.

Moral issues aside, the order to destroy food raised a host of economic questions.

When the embargo against imports was first introduced, the authorities portrayed it as a chance for Russia to develop its domestic agriculture and industry. Instead, a black market sprang up, as evidenced by spray-painted signs on the asphalt in Moscow, with the word “parmesan” and a mobile telephone number for anyone who was interested.

The new government order is for food to be destroyed “by any means that do not harm the environment”, almost an open invitation for the corrupt to fake food bonfires and divert goodies onto the black market.

As a compromise, some experts suggested reprocessing the high-quality, even gourmet food, into animal feed, which only brought more howls of protest from people who live on a basic diet of bread, boiled sausage and macaroni.

Undeterred, one high-ranking government official, Dmitry Chugunov, approved the idea of stiff jail sentences for food smugglers, saying: “If we don’t kick this food addiction, we will never learn to build worthy cheese factories for ourselves.”

President Putin has enjoyed sky-high ratings for years, in large part because of his ability to speak to the common man. But with his persecution of food, it seems he may have lost touch with the public.

“It’s started. In Samara [a city on the Volga River], they are burning pork. If you ask me, they [the powers that be] will break themselves over this one, the public execution of food,” wrote Olga Bakushinskaya, an opposition journalist who recently left Russia for Israel.


Has a mysterious WW2 train been found and was it carrying tonnes of gold image

Has a mysterious WW2 train been found and was it carrying tonnes of gold?

Warsaw: Two people in Poland say they have found a Nazi German train cloaked in mystery since it was rumoured to have gone missing near the end of World War II while carrying away gold, gems and guns ahead of advancing Soviet Red Army forces.

Local authorities in Poland’s south-western district of Walbrzych said they had been contacted by a law firm representing a Pole and a German who said they had located the train and were seeking 10 per cent of the value of the findings.

“Lawyers, the army, the police and the fire brigade are dealing with this,” Marika Tokarska, an official at the Walbrzych district council, said. “The area has never been excavated before and we don’t know what we might find.”

Sobibor train station in Poland in 2009. The Nazis killed at least 250,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp during the Holocaust.image
A view of the Sobibor train station in Poland in 2009. The Nazis killed at least 250,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp during the Holocaust. Photo: ReutersLocal news reports said the train in question went missing in 1945, packed with loot from the-then eastern German city of Breslau, now called Wroclaw and part of Poland, as the Red Army closed in at the end of World War II.

One local media report said the train was armoured and belonged to the Wehrmacht (Nazi Germany’s military).

Radio Wroclaw cited local folklore as saying the train entered a tunnel near Ksiaz Castle in the mountainous Lower Silesian region and never emerged. According to that theory, the tunnel was later closed and its location long forgotten.

Other media said the train could have been carrying some 300 tonnes of gold.

According to Radio Wroclaw, the 150-metre-long train was carrying guns, “industrial equipment”, gems and other valuable treasure. Tokarska said she did not have any details on the location or the contents of the missing train.

Some sceptics say there is no evidence that it ever existed.

“A handful of people have already looked for the train, damaging the line in the process, but nothing was ever found,” Radio Wroclaw quoted Joanna Lamparska as saying, describing her as a connoisseur of the region’s history.

“But the legend has captured imaginations.”

Trains were indeed used to spirit Nazi loot back to Berlin as US-led Allied and Soviet forces surged towards the German capital from the west and the east in the winter and spring of 1945.

In the case of the so-called “Gold Train”, Nazi forces sent 24 freight carriages from Budapest towards Germany filled with family treasures including gold, silver and valuable paintings seized from Hungarian Jews and estimated to be worth up to $US200 million ($273 million).

That train was intercepted by US soldiers, who, according to a later US investigation, helped themselves to some of the loot.



Packs of sliced beef ham and cheese are placed on the ground image

Packs of sliced beef ham and cheese are placed on the ground as part of a display of illegally imported food falling under restrictions in St. Petersburg, earlier this month. Photo: REUTERS/Peter Kovalev

Moscow: Russian police said on Tuesday it had busted an international contraband cheese operation responsible for bringing 2 billion roubles ($40 million) of the embargoed product onto the domestic market.

Police seized 470 tons of the products, as well as label makers and “documents proving illegal activity,” during more than a dozen raids on warehouses, offices and residences apparently used by the group, according to a statement posted on the Interior Ministry’s website.

It said the Moscow-based ring illegally imported rennet products that it would falsely label as prestigious brand cheeses and sell to supermarkets and distribution centres in Moscow and St Petersburg.

bulldozer destroys illegally imported cheese in Belgorod region, Russia image
A bulldozer destroys illegally imported cheese in Belgorod region, Russia, on August 6.
Two of the ring’s organisers and four other participants, aged 29 to 58, have been detained and face up to 10 years in prison for “especially large-scale fraud by an organised group,” police said.

Russia has banned imports of dairy products, as well as raw meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, from the European Union, the United States and several other Western countries that have imposed sanctions against Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

When the embargo against imports was first introduced a year ago, the authorities portrayed it as a chance for Russia to develop its domestic agriculture and industry. Instead, a black market sprang up, as evidenced by spray-painted signs on the asphalt in Moscow, with the word “parmesan” and a mobile phone number for anyone who was interested.

specialist controls the process of cheese making at John Kopiski's farm in Krutovo village, east of Moscow image

A specialist controls the process of cheese making at John Kopiski’s farm in Krutovo village, east of Moscow. Russia has marked the one-year anniversary of its ban on Western agricultural products with an order to destroy contraband food. Photo: AP

Earlier this month, Russia destroyed tonnes of imported cheese and other foods.

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