Big wins: 'Better business than drug and gun smuggling' - former smuggler speaks out about bird trafficking in Europe

Most smugglers stick to guns or drugs, but Stanislavas Huzhiavichus says there's far more money to be made from other types of contraband.

Big wins: 'Better business than drug and gun smuggling' - former smuggler speaks out about bird trafficking in Europe

Most smugglers stick to guns or drugs, but Stanislavas Huzhiavichus says there's far more money to be made from other types of contraband. "Drug and arms smugglers simply don't know anything about the better business, and of course that's the animal business," he told the international research collective Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Huzhiavichus should know, because he himself smuggled rare birds across Europe and sold them for large sums - until he was caught.

Born in Ukraine, he worked for a smuggling ring that acquired endangered birds in their countries of origin, smuggled them to Europe and sold them to collectors here. Each time he earned 50,000 euros, says Huzhiavichus. In 2018 he was caught by customs investigators in Vienna. After four months in custody, he was acquitted in a trial, but the verdict is not final.

After an appeal by the public prosecutor, the Higher Regional Court overturned the verdict, but Huzhiavichus had already left abroad. Until then, bird smuggling was a lucrative business for him. According to Huzhiavichus, he brought more than 1,000 rare birds to the EU within half a year. Mostly he bribed drivers of the Ukrainian railways to hide the birds in compartments on their trains and thus transport them to the EU.

Huzhiavichus then picked them up in Budapest, for example, and was able to redistribute them within the European Union without having to fear further controls. Another advantage for him: the 30-year-old has Lithuanian roots and therefore has an EU passport.

The birds he smuggled included palm cockatoos, toucans and birds of paradise. According to Huzhiavichus, he got 30 times the purchase price for palm cockatoos. During his time in prison, drug dealers and gang members ridiculed him for his criminal activity - until he reported his profit margins, the smuggler said. Then they would have wanted to cooperate with him.

Huzhiavichus was "part of a large-scale animal smuggling ring," said Austrian customs investigator Andreas Pöchhacker, who led the investigation. Animals were delivered from Chile, Venezuela, Asia and many other countries. The turnover of the smuggler ring is said to have been around 30 million euros per year, according to investigators' estimates.

Actually, Huzhiavichus is a trained veterinarian, but during his time as a criminal he paid no attention to the welfare of the birds. Due to the sometimes catastrophic transport conditions, a third of the animals died on the journey. After his release from prison, however, he renounced crime. Now he lives again in his Ukrainian homeland, which he does not want to leave despite the war. There he takes care of injured wild birds in a sanctuary.

Those: "Profil", "Guardian"

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