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Operation Joker: Greatest success in the fight against organised illegal gambling Investigation success on the part of criminal investigators, the Financial Police and the judiciary, with six arrests, 43 property searches, plus 600 illegal gambling machines seized, as well as approximately EUR 382,000.

Since June 2018, a separate working group has existed within the Austrian Federal Criminal Intelligence Service, established for the purpose of combating the impact of illegal gambling in terms of criminality, with its task being to uncover and dismantle the related structures of organised crime. The working group discovered that, Austria-wide, several groups operate illegal gambling using very similar methods. Generally, premises are rented which are then sublet to sham foreign companies. The premises are then structurally adapted and equipped with gambling machines, mostly operated by further sham foreign companies. The profits from the machines are collected and largely transferred abroad, where they flow back into the company accounts of the perpetrator groups via the accounts of bogus firms in the form of invoice, salary or rental payments.

One of the most important groups identified was the so-called "Vienna Group". This was a network set up around a principal suspect who had also involved other family members in his illegal dealings. The investigators surmise that sums of between EUR 40,000 and EUR 100,000 had been transferred abroad at least twice a month and paid into accounts of bogus firms, also established abroad. "Thanks to the close cooperation between the Austrian Federal Criminal Intelligence Service, the Financial Police, the Tax Office for Fees, Transaction Taxes and Gambling and the Tax Investigation Agency, it has been possible to uncover an illegal network of bogus firms. Our excellent cooperation and professional approach has struck the greatest blow to date against organised illegal gambling," declared Christian Ackerler, Director of the Tax Investigation Agency.

Successes

On the instructions of the Leoben Public Prosecutor's Office, around 320 civil servants, comprising 180 from the tax administration (Tax Investigation Agency, Financial Police, and the Tax Office for Fees, Transaction Taxes and Gambling) and 140 from the police (Federal Criminal Intelligence Service, Cobra [Austrian Special Forces], Wega [Vienna's Tactical Police Unit]), as well as the Hungarian security authorities, were deployed on 22 May 2019 in Operation Joker, which took place in Austria and Hungary. The outcome of this large-scale action consists of the biggest coup ever against illegal gambling and related tax evasion, leading to a total of six arrests, access to 43 bank accounts (30 in Austria and 13 in Hungary), and 43 property searches, in the context of which at least EUR 382,000 was seized. In Hungary, a bank official with involvement was arrested; he has now been charged with tax evasion.

In total, five people were arrested in Austria, and a further male was arrested in Hungary by the Hungarian authorities. These were the heads of the organization and their Hungarian banker. In the process, eleven people were also identified as abettors, based on reasonable grounds for suspecting serious tax fraud. "Without a doubt, this group of perpetrators has all the features of organised crime and is reminiscent of the intrigues engaged in by Al Capone in the 1920s. Only as a result of the outstanding cooperation between the judiciary, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Ministry of the Interior has it been possible to achieve this phenomenal success," declared Dieter Csefan, Senior Director and head of the Office for Combating Organised Crime at the Austrian Federal Criminal Intelligence Service.

Forty of the property searches took place in the provinces of Styria, Vienna, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg and Burgenland, with three in Hungary. In the process, a total of around EUR 254,000 was seized in cash by the acting officers, along with valuables – in the form of foreign currency and gold and silver bars – having a value of around EUR 128,000. The total value amounted to at least EUR 382,000.

According to the current status of the investigation, the value at issue in the criminal case totals approximately EUR 1.6 million. However, this sum relates "only" to the gambling taxes evaded.

600 gambling machines seized

During the course of the operation, around 600 gambling machines were discovered in a warehouse in Lower Austria. On the instructions of the Leoben Public Prosecutor's Office, immediately, the entire warehouse was officially sealed off. It is likely that the gambling machines stored there served as supplies intended for replenishing those premises where machines were seized. In addition, during the course of the searches undertaken, various weapons, mobile phones, computers and a small quantity of narcotics were uncovered and confiscated. At present, the criminal prosecution authorities are in the process of gaining access to a series of bank accounts. Furthermore, the amount of VAT and income tax evaded is still part of the ongoing investigations. Likewise, the investigations into serious fraud by the Austrian Federal Criminal Intelligence Service are also currently ongoing. Once the current information has been processed and analysed, further successes can be anticipated.