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Acquittals in landmark human smuggling case

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Acquittals in landmark human smuggling case
15:56 CEST+02:00
Three women and one man who had been considered the ringleaders of a major human trafficking operation from Vietnam to Sweden were released today by the Halmstad District Court in western Sweden.

The court also rejected the prosecutor's request that two of the suspects be deported.

A total of 34 people have been indicted in the case.

The Halmstad court felt accepted that the four prime suspects received payment to arrange marriages or engagements between Vietnamese citizens an people residing in Sweden. The court also granted that the main purpose was to acquire Swedish work and residence permits for the Vietnamese.

But those charged cannot, however, be convicted for gross organization of human smuggling, the court ruled.

The reason for the acquittal is that the prosecutor, according to the court, couldn't show that the foreign citizens had been smuggled into Sweden outside of normal passport checkpoints or by being hidden in cars or boats, for example.

Instead, the Vietnamese arrived in Sweden with genuine documents and the required permits. Even though the documents were issued for illegitimate reasons, that fact doesn't mean they were false, argued the court.

Head prosecutor Thomas Wennerstrand is disappointed that the prime suspects in the case will be set free.

“When I launched this case I naturally believed that it would hold up. But the indictment was dismissed, not because our evidence was insufficient, but because the legislation on human smuggling in this case isn't applicable,” he said to the TT news agency.

Wennerstrand fears that the ruling, if it becomes precedent, could make the rules for immigration to Sweden and the rest of the EU redundant.

“I'm going to analyze the arguments, but it's likely that it will be tried in a higher court because accepted procedure is lacking in this area,” he said.

Stefan Andersson, defence attorney for one of the lead suspects, a 45-year-old women, isn't surprised by the ruling.

“I would have been really disappointed of the court had ruled otherwise. It's not illegal to pay to pair people up in Sweden; on the contrary, it occurs in many places,” he said, drawing parallels to the popular Swedish television program The Farmer Wants A Wife (Bonde söker fru) and Frozen Men Looking For Love (Frusna män söker kärlek).

The mammoth case was tried in Halmstad Disctrict Court over 33 days this spring. In addition to the four primary suspects, 30 other people were indicted for human smuggling for having partaken in sham marriages or for taking children with them to Sweden who were not their own.

Some were also suspected of having defrauded Sweden's social insurance agency by taking out various forms of child support payments.

Twenty-five of the additional 30 people indicted have been acquitted by the district court, while four have been fined for crimes against the Aliens' Act, and one person received probation for theft.

According to prosecutors, the case is the biggest ever in Sweden involving fake marriages. The investigation has generated nearly 8,000 pages of testimony, telephone wiretaps, and a large number of confiscated documents.

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