“SOKO Nord” and “SOKO South” – Task Force North and Task Force South

The task forces (German: Sonderkommission SOKO) North and South were intro-
duced in January 2013. Before then, only a “Task Force East” and the “Task Force
Traiskirchen”, introduced in 2011 by the Austrian minister for interior affairs, Johanna
Mikl-Leitner, and the Lower Austrian governor, Erwin Pröll, existed. Meanwhile, they
have been implemented into the Task Force North. The Task Force North still has its
base of operations in Traiskirchen, whereas the Task Force South operates from Eisen-
stadt. They are organized by the local police forces of Lower Austria and Burgenland. A
declared reason¹ for the introduction of these task forces are the supposedly successful
investigations of the Task Force East, which lead to a change of “smuggling routes”.
Task Force North should now specifically target the routes from Chechnya, Russia, Po-
land, Ukraine and Slovakia while Task Force South focuses on possible routes crossing
or coming from Turkey, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary.

Both the task forces North and South consist of twelve “executive officers”: Six of
them are appointed by the State Office of Criminal Investigation (Landeskriminalamt,
LKA) of Lower Austria, respectively Burgenland, two by the LKA Vienna, one by the
Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) and the others
are policewomen and -men from the federal states. The twelfth person comes from the
so called “Operational Centre for Compensation Measures” (“Operatives Zentrum für
Ausgleichsmaßnahmen”). In addition, the Task Force South is to be reinforced by two
Hungarian officers (status: December 2012). The authority for both task forces is the

The “Operational Centre for Compensation Measures” has been set up in August of
2011 in Wiener Neustadt. A press release, regarding its opening, states: “The appointed
officers coordinate, register and analyze data and search measures for fighting against
illegal migration, human smuggling, illegal drug trafficking and arms trade as well as
vehicle trafficking and document forgery in Austria”.² The Ministry of the Interior calls
the centre a “core of the new bureau […], in which criminal and migration specific
data is being analyzed and registered. Based on that, target-oriented investigation and
search measures will be initiated in the whole country of Austria, for example for fight-
ing against illegal migration and human trafficking.”³

“I must have made a mistake there.”⁴
For the current case, police investigations have been initiated on the 10th of march in
2013, under the names YUNAN 1 and 2. In general, none of the police officers who
spoke as witnesses in front of the court behaved as if they were responsible for any-
thing or knew anything about their work or the work of their colleagues.
Translators referred to other translators that referred to police officers who then
ascribed the demanded information to again other police officers. Both of the inves-
tigations were running at the same time, one being under control of the prosecution
office of Wiener Neustadt and the other one being overseen by the prosecution office of
Wien-Josefstadt. Until now though, it is not clear why the investigations were running
at the same time, although at least one officer knew of the overlaps between the two.
They were merged only in November 2013 by the head prosecution office. The police
departments also worked internationally. According to witnesses from the police there
was cooperation with German, Hungarian and Italian offices, with the information ex-
change happening through Europol-databases. One of these databases was FIMATHU,
though its results were incorporated into the file, so that it is impossible to say now
which information comes from this specific database.

Reports of observations, too, have been managed as an “internal file” and therefore
don’t appear in the official file. Often it is not even clear, whether they exist or not. As
a means of introduction into the chaos of files there is a schoolwork-resembling intro
into the working habits of “human smugglers”. Some sentences can be found on Wiki-
pedia, others are justified with “professional experience”. Some information though
have supposedly been gained from the interrogations of asylum seekers.

“It all starts in the park”⁵
The testimonies of task force officers often demonstrate their biased and paranoid
judgement of certain situations. Meetings in the park or the repeated changing of SIM
cards are supposed to be clear signs of conspirative actions, even though the observa-
tions in the park would, according to their own testimonies, not have led to relevant
results for the investigations. According to one police officer, there would “always be
an uncertainty about specific facts” in investigations about “human smuggling”. Often
it was completely unclear why a specific person was mentioned in the charge, one time
simple “telephone contact” was mentioned as the decisive evidence.

The word “uncle”, too, alerted a police officer. “It could be a potential financier”, he stat-
ed in front of the court. Even the poor evidence would not necessarily be exculpatory,
the accused could “possibly have always been present in the background”. In contrast,
it looked like some police officers didn’t just stay in the background of the translations
of the phone conversations. Terms like “Schleppungswillige” (“someone willing to be
smuggled”) became apparent in the file after the police officers discussed them with
the translators, although the accused only spoke of “people”. The police officers also
decided, which of the contents were “relevant to smuggling”. One witness gave an ap-
propriate definition of this: “If people come or someone talks about people it is always
relevant to smuggling!” But the assignment of voices to the accused, however, was a
task of the translators, who repeatedly made major mistakes, as the trial showed.
During the two investigations YUNAN 1 and 2, which were led by district inspectors
Rudolf Kranz and group inspector Martin Unger, Bernhard Korner was their supervi-
sor. Their greater supervisor, and technical chief of the operation, was colonel Gerald
Tatzgern, who is the leader of the Central Unit Combatting Human Trafficking and
Smuggling Crimes (“Zentralstelle zur Bekämpfung der Schlepperkriminalität und des
Menschenhandels”), which is located in the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation,
which is part of the Ministry of Interior.
On this note, it shall be left open, what kind of “mistake” Johanna Mikl-Leitner spoke
of in an interview with the KURIER on the 3rd of August 2013.⁶

¹ “Polizei Aktuell – Zeitung für die Exekutive” Edition 135, p. 6
² http://www.ots.at/presseaussendung/OTS_20110830_OTS0167/lh-proell-und-bm-mikl-leitner-eroeff-
neten-operatives-zentrum-fuer-ausgleichsmassnahmen-in-wiener-neustadt [last access in April 2015)
³ http://www.bmi.gv.at/cms/bmi/_news/bmi.aspx?id=6A335070394C4A753053733D&page=1&view=1
[last access in April 2015]
⁴ Rudolf Kranz, one of the main investigators of the task force “human smuggling”, confronted with the fact
that he reported the same actions in two different cases.
⁵ This statement, made in a telephone call, was the only “evidence” against a defendant in one charge.
⁶ See: chronology in this brochure.