BERLIN (Reuters) - German police on Wednesday broke up an international ring of people smugglers whose members used falsified documents to bring foreigners into Germany, mainly by air, for a fee of up to 10,000 euros ($10,859.00) per person.
A police statement said that 17 suspected members of the ring had been arrested in raids in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Baden-Wuerttemberg.
The ring provided foreign nationals, mostly Syrians and Lebanese, with falsified documents such as residency permits and travel documents.
The smugglers came to the attention of the authorities after several people making their way to Germany through Malaysia on falsified documents were arrested at Kuala Lumpur airport, which was used by the criminal ring as a transit port.
A 10-member Lebanese family traveling to Germany on false documents via Kuala Lumpur was arrested. The family was allowed to continue its journey to Germany on humanitarian grounds after it contacted the U.N. refugee office and the German embassy in the Malaysian capital.
The main suspect is a 24-year-old man who was arrested in the western city of Essen. Handguns, machetes, swords, laser aimers and passports were found in his possession.
Some 570 law enforcement officials and policemen took part in the operation.
Germany has become the favored destination for hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
($1 = 0.9209 euros)
Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Gareth Jones