Austrian Financial Guard: Major crackdown on Chinese restaurant

Around 100 officers from the Financial Guard run checks on 36 Asian restaurants in Lower Austria and Burgenland over two days

Across two days of action at the end of September, around 100 officers from the Financial Guard, in collaboration with tax and customs officers and the police, ran checks on 215 employees across 36 Asian restaurants in Lower Austria and Burgenland.

It is a sad statistic that, in the case of 15% of restaurants investigated, arrests were made for immigration offences (a total of 18), since employees were found to be lacking residence documents. Over 10% of those employees checked were employed in breach of the Austrian Act on the Employment of Foreign Nationals (Ausländerbeschäftigungsgesetz), and almost 15% were not registered for social insurance purposes. In the case of approximately 20% of those businesses checked, irregularities were identified in terms of till records.

In one Chinese restaurant in Amstetten, the Financial Guard, jointly with the police, succeeded in uncovering some particularly tragic excesses of human trafficking and exploitation. During one control, the officers were witness to an illegal worker being locked and hidden inside a cool room in the restaurant kitchen.

The person who was to be hidden so unscrupulously is likely to be a Chinese national, but entered the country illegally without documentation. His papers were allegedly taken from him by traffickers whom he paid approximately EUR 7,000; these traffickers brought him from northern China via Greece, to Italy, and finally Austria. He apparently came to Austria because, as he testified, he had hoped to find work. In any event, the watchfulness of the police officers was able to prevent something worse happening, and the man was released from the cool room. If he had been locked in throughout the entire checking process – which nevertheless took 2 ½ hours – he could have suffered considerable damage to his health. The man was taken by the police to the St Pölten detention centre.

By contrast, a woman whom the Financial Guard encountered in a restaurant as a member of the service staff and on whom they wished to run checks, fled. However, they succeeded in stopping her, and seized a residence permit from Poland; in Austria, she was merely a tourist. Since she was able to provide neither a work permit nor a residence permit for Austria, a two-year re-entry ban was imposed, and deportation is being arranged.

"The behaviour of the restaurant operator shows how unscrupulous people are in this sector, and how, in a criminal environment, what little value is ultimately attached to humane working or indeed a humane existence," is how Mag. (FH) Stefan Flaschberger, Special Team Expert from the Melk Financial Guard, expressed his shock at the criminal goings-on taking place in the family business.

In this particular restaurant alone, four people were reported for a breach of the General Social Insurance Act (Allgemeine Sozialversicherungsgesetz (ASVG)), three under the Act on Employment of Foreign Nationals (Ausländerbeschäftigungsgesetz (AuslBG)) and one person for a breach of the Unemployment Insurance Act (Arbeitslosenversicherungsgesetz (AlVG)); the uncle of the restaurant boss was found working there, but receives unemployment benefit. It is documented that he had failed to report starting his employment in the Chinese restaurant to the Austrian Job Centre (AMS).

"Particularly against the global background of human trafficking and labour exploitation, the Financial Guard is making an important contribution to combating illegal employment, illegal working, breaches of trading laws and social insurance fraud. Jointly with our colleagues from the tax and customs offices, we are ensuring fair competition in Austria and at the same time checking compliance with employment standards in Austria," affirmed Michael Aigner, MA, Regional Head of the Financial Guard for Lower Austria and Burgenland. "Furthermore, our excellent cooperation with the Austrian Federal Criminal Intelligence Service, the immigration enforcement authorities, the regional criminal intelligence services and police department will continue in future to help us curb human trafficking and labour exploitation in the catering sector."

The targeted crackdowns on Asian restaurants were preceded by a Europe-wide campaign to combat human trafficking and illegal employment in May 2017. The Austrian Federal Criminal Intelligence Service had proclaimed an Austrian initiative at European level and also invited 6 Chinese officers to Austria to work in cooperation with them. The results of the controls undertaken in Asian restaurants led the officers from the Financial Guard to suspect that this was merely the "tip of the iceberg". The targeted crackdown was therefore continued at the end of September 2017 with further controls.