BERLIN (Reuters) - German police arrested two men on Tuesday and carried out 22 searches in a crackdown on human trafficking that authorities say helped illegally secure asylum approvals for at least 10 migrants, mostly from Iran.
“We are investigating at 10 cases and the number could grow, perhaps substantially,” said Oliver Eisenhauer, a state prosecutor for the state of Lower Saxony.
He said four more people, including an Iranian man employed at Germany’s embassy in Iran, were being investigated as possible co-conspirators, but no arrest warrants had been issued.
The two men were arrested in the northern city of Hannover.
Eisenhauer said one was a 37-year-old Iranian who advertised his services on Facebook, promising the help of “a network of document forgers, translators and attorneys”, and charging fees that sometimes exceeded 10,000 euros.
The other was a 54-year-old German translator, who coached the migrants through the asylum application process in return for cash, the prosecutor’s office and German Federal Police said in a statement.
Their names were not disclosed.
Eisenhauer said the German translator encouraged migrants to convert to Christianity, attend church services in Germany, and quote from Bible verses so as to avoid deportation to Iran, where they could face persecution for their religion. The statement did not identify which churches the migrants might have attended.
He said he could not confirm a media report indicating that the ring had helped at least 700 migrants secure asylum in Germany but said that Tuesday’s searches would bring more information.
Two blank pistols, mobile telephones, laptops and falsified documents were seized during searches of additional homes and businesses in Berlin and seven German states, according to the joint statement. The investigation began in March 2016.
One of the other suspects still under investigation is a German lawyer who is suspected of having encouraged migrants to make false statements to German migration authorities, according to the statement. The wife and mother of the Iranian main suspect are also under investigation, it said.
If convicted, the two main suspects face prison sentences of six months to 10 years. The migrants face potential monetary fines and prison sentences of up to five years if convicted of asylum fraud, Eisenhauer said.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Catherine Evans