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Austria migrant truck deaths probe complete, 8 held: police

BUDAPEST (AFP) – 

Hungarian police said Wednesday they will seek charges against eight suspects after completing a probe into the deaths of 71 migrants found in a truck in Austria last year, in a case that sent shockwaves through Europe.

“The investigation has been completed… Police will recommend to prosecutors that they press charges against eight suspects,” said Zoltan Boross, head of the police’s anti-migrant trafficking unit.

In total, seven Bulgarians and an Afghan — considered the ringleader — have been remanded in custody over the gruesome tragedy.

Four are accused of manslaughter, while another four could face charges of organised human trafficking, Boross told journalists in Budapest.

A further three suspects remain at large, he added.

The badly decomposing bodies of the 71 people were found inside an abandoned refrigerator truck in Burgenland state, close to the Hungarian border on August 27, 2015.

Budapest took over the case last November, because the 59 men, eight women and four children were thought to have suffocated while the lorry was still in Hungary.

Investigations revealed that the migrants — mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — had been picked up at Hungary’s border with Serbia and transported to Austria via Budapest.

An autopsy showed they had most likely died from lack of oxygen shortly after leaving the Hungarian capital.

“The perpetrators knew by the time they crossed the Hungarian-Austrian border that the passengers were dead,” Boross said.

The case sparked international revulsion, highlighting the plight of desperate people putting their lives in the hands of traffickers.

“This was a tragic example of how ruthless the criminal gangs are,” said Robert Crepinko, the anti-smuggling chief of Europe’s police agency Europol, at the press conference in Budapest.

“We see a number of criminal gangs operating across Europe making their profits regardless of the risks put on migrants lives.”

The continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II has turned people smuggling into a booming criminal market, generating up to six billion euros ($6.6 billion) a year, according to Crepinko.

© 2016 AFP