Police in Austria, Germany and Macedonia say they've dealt a major blow against a Macedonia-based drug gang which they say is responsible for most of the heroin trade in Frankfurt and Vienna.
Drug smuggling has become a big problem in Macedonia
A joint operation involving Austrian, German and Macedonian police this week broke up a major drug ring in Central and Eastern Europe, resulting in dozens of arrests.
Authorities in Vienna on Thursday said police in Austria and Macedonia had conducted coordinated raids on Wednesday and arrested 29 people suspected of being gang ring-leaders. They said that since their coordinated effort began in 2007, police have made more than 300 arrests in Germany and 69 in Austria.
Officials said the gang is based in Macedonia and quickly took over the heroin trade in Frankfurt and Vienna by violently forcing out rival gangs. The ring has been dubbed the Frankfurt Mafia and is especially active in the German banking center and in the Austrian capital.
The cities are at the end of what the United Nations has called the "Balkan Route," along which heroin from Afghanistan is smuggled into Western Europe via Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and other Balkan countries before ending up on the streets of Western Europe's major cities.
Police traced the heroin all the way back to Afghanistan
General Franz Lang, who heads the Austrian Bureau of Criminal investigation, said the operation had been underway for months.
"I believe this is the biggest-ever hit that we've carried out in Austria and neighboring countries," he said. "It concerns a very dangerous group - with effective structures - well organized."
According to police, the Frankfurt Mafia was able to penetrate the market so quickly by selling high-quality heroin at what was described as a reasonable price. Their profit in Vienna alone was estimated at 80,000 euros ($105,000) a day.
Lang said that while heroin was the gang's main business, it was also involved in other criminal activity.
"The group was successful in organizing transport out of Afghanistan," he said. "And of course other crimes go along with that - from extortion to robbery to smuggling."
Justice officials in Vienna said their investigation was continuing and more arrests were likely.
Author: Kerry Skyring, Vienna (acb)
Editor: Chuck Penfold