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10 detained in large-scale raid in Germany targeting human smuggling gang that exploits visa permits

Police officers stand near a building that is being searched in Solingen, Germany, Wednesday April 17, 2024. (Gianni Gattus/dpa via AP) Police officers stand near a building that is being searched in Solingen, Germany, Wednesday April 17, 2024. (Gianni Gattus/dpa via AP)
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BERLIN -

German authorities conducted a large-scale raid against an international human smuggling gang early Wednesday, police said in a statement.

More than 1,000 police officers searched dozens of homes, stores and offices across western and southern Germany and detained 10 suspects, including two lawyers.

A total of 38 suspected gang members, as well as 147 other people who allegedly paid to be smuggled by it, are being investigated, German news agency dpa reported. The two lawyers, 42 and 46 years old and from the Cologne area, are the main suspects, federal police in nearby Sankt Augustin said. The names of the suspects were not given, in line with German privacy rules.

The suspects are accused of having illegally taken advantage of special German immigration rules reserved for skilled foreign workers to obtain residency permits for around 350 mostly Chinese nationals -- who don't meet the needed criteria -- in exchange for hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars).

Through their law firms, the two main suspects are said to have recruited wealthy foreign nationals for smuggling -- mainly from China but also from Arab countries. Police said clients paid the law firms from 30,000 to 350,000 euros for illegal help with visas.

The suspected lawyers and their helpers allegedly used the money to set up fake companies, finance alleged residences and falsify alleged wage payments, keeping "not inconsiderable amounts" to enrich themselves, dpa reported.

The false residence permits were obtained from immigration offices in the western towns of Kerpen and Solingen, as well as Rhine-Erft and Dueren counties. One of the ten detained suspects is an city employee from Dueren, who was allegedly bribed to participate in the scam, dpa said.

Raids were carried out in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria, Hamburg and Berlin where police seized assets and collected evidence.

"So far, extensive evidence and not inconsiderable assets have been secured, including around 210,000 euros in cash," the authorities said.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser thanked police and prosecutors for the "massive strike against international organized migrant smuggling."

"In the fight against smuggling gangs, we need precisely this high level of investigative pressure and this consistent crackdown," the minister added. "We will continue this tough approach against organized migrant smuggling."

The investigation focused on North Rhine-Westphalia, where the 10 suspects were detained.

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