Nine people, including a former mayor of Mesolongi, a pilot and two Iraqi nationals, were arrested on Wednesday for transporting stranded refugees from a flying club in western Greece to Italy on a light single engine aircraft.
Police said the gang, whose mastermind was a 47-year-old Iraqi, was involved in 12 air transfers of asylum seekers to Italy since September.
The ringleader’s assistant, a 31-year-old fellow Iraqi, was tasked with finding refugees interested in illegally entering Central and Western Europe. The refugees were transferred from Athens by car to a taverna outside Mesolongi before boarding the flight from the flying club whose head was also arrested.
The fee for the flight from Mesolongi ranged between 4,500 and 7,500 euros while the gang’s turnover is estimated at more than 400,000 euros in the space of a few months.
The investigation also revealed that flight reservations skyrocketed after Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was closed. Three of the 12 flights took place in the last two weeks.
Police confiscated 34,000 euros, 19 mobile phones and small quantities of hashish. Authorities were first tipped off about the flights to Italy in September and initially suspected a drug smuggling operation into Europe.
Police are searching for four more suspects, three Italians and one Greek.