Financial Police raid poppy processing factory: 13 undocumented workers deported

On 1 February, the Financial Police carried out a non-routine operation at agricultural premises in the Weinviertel district. 13 foreign workers were caught working illegally emptying poppy pods. The poppy farmers now face substantial fines and a tax audit, and the individuals working illegally will be deported.

The Financial Police began investigating the case following a tip-off, and their enquires quickly culminated in a raid on the premises. In a warehouse on the site, eight officers from the Financial Police, backed up by 6 police officers, discovered 13 people emptying poppy seed pods. At the beginning of their inspection, one worker unsuccessfully attempted to escape from the scene, heightening police suspicions of illegal activity. Those suspicions quickly turned out to be justified:

a closer examination of the workers’ records revealed that all 13 poppy seed harvesters were employed illegally and had not been registered with the Austrian health insurance fund. Their excuse that they were only there "to watch” work being carried out did little to impress the authorities.

Prior to the raid, business must have been profitable for the poppy farmer, given that he had been working with various online retailers to build up a distribution system and sell his goods throughout Europe - goods that had been produced cheaply on the backs of illegal labour. Although the poppy pods were marketed as decorative items, buyers could well have used them as an intoxicating tea substitute as well.

In any event, the illegal poppy pod business suffered severe sanctions. All the illegal workers will be deported to their home countries of Bosnia and Serbia. The operator will have to account for his actions under the Employment of Foreign Workers Act (Ausländerbeschäftigungsgesetz) and the General Social Security Act (ASVG). He will also face an tax audit, along with demands for substantial back taxes and penalties.

"Work off the books, and the tax avoidance and fraud that goes hand in hand with it, distorts competition and harms the economy as well as all taxpayers. Investigators from the Financial Police's Anti-Fraud Office prevented this operation from inflicting further damage, and they will continue to take rigorous action against such criminal activities in the future," said Austrian Minister of Finance Magnus Brunner.

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