Five people were arrested in Rome and Brussels for smuggling migrants from Turkey to western Europe via private jet in trips costing around 10,000 euros ($10,000), Italian police said Wednesday.
The suspects, held on warrants issued by Belgian authorities, are accused of belonging to a criminal organization aimed at abetting illegal immigration, a statement said.
They would give migrants fake diplomatic ID papers from St. Kitts and Nevis and put them on aircraft headed to the Caribbean state with a stopover in Europe, the statement added.
Upon landing in a European airport, the migrants, described as mostly ethnic Kurds or Iraqis, would get off, declare their real identity and file for asylum, Italian police said.
According to investigators, who documented five separate landings in Italy, Germany, France, Austria and Belgium between October and December 2020, each migrant paid about 10,000 euros for the journey.
The suspects were arrested following joint investigations by police forces from the five European countries, with help from US authorities and European Union agencies Europol and Eurojust.
Three men - an Italian and two Egyptians - were detained in Rome, while another Egyptian and a Tunisian woman were arrested in Brussels, police chief Costantino Scudieri told Reuters.
Two more suspects remain on the run in Italy and Belgium. As part of the operation, Belgian police also seized two private jets worth 426,000 euros.