One of Europe’s biggest crime rings, known for drug trafficking, assassinations, and money laundering, was busted by Europol on Wednesday.
The European Union’s police agency estimated that the crime group had taken in nearly $760 million as a result of its criminal activity in 2017-19 and was headed up by a 48 year old Lithuanian national and other EU citizens.
In a raid that took place in four countries over May 15-16, 450 law enforcement officers and customs officials arrested 22 suspects. The agency personnel included officers from Poland, the UK, Lithuania, and Spain. Those working Operation “Icebreaker” found nearly $9 million worth of cash, gold bars, diamonds, luxury cars, and jewelry as they searched over 40 homes.
The successful raid had been planned since 2016, when officers and agency officials began gathering intel and putting together cases to take down the major criminal network. The “highly professional and dangerous international organized crime group” was aware of the operation and tried to use “counter-surveillance and counter-intelligence measures to try to evade law enforcement authorities, as well as specialized encrypted communication devices” said Europol.
The crime ring laundered money through currency exchange offices, then spent the cash on investment properties in Spain. They also smuggled cigarettes and drugs into the United Kingdom and shipped cash to Poland.
There are over 5,000 criminal networks under surveillance in the EU, as per Europol. The Director General of the UK’s National Crime Agency Lynne Owens, said that serious organized crime “kills more people every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined.”
“SOC affects more UK citizens, more frequently than any other national security threat. And it costs the UK at least £37 billion a year — equivalent to nearly £2,000 per family,” said Owens.