In an operation code named "Icebreaker," European authorities announced that they had dismantled a large criminal group. Police across five countries seized cash, diamonds, jewelry and luxury vehicles.
Police across five countries arrested 22 suspects in an operation that dismantled one of Europe's top criminal groups behind drug trafficking and assassinations, the EU's police agency Europol said Wednesday.
The operation codenamed "Icebreaker", which took place last week, led to the arrest of the 48-year-old Lithuanian ringleader in Spain as well as other suspects in Poland, Lithuania, Spain and Britain, Europol said.
The "highly professional and dangerous" gang was "involved in large-scale drug and cigarette trafficking, assassinations and money laundering," netting an estimated €680 million ($760 million) over the past two years, the agency added.
Nearly 450 police raided 40 properties, as well as hidden compartments used to smuggle drugs, seizing €8 million in cash, diamonds, gold bars, jewelry and luxury vehicles.
The gang made most of its money by trafficking drugs and cigarettes into Britain and then smuggling the cash to Poland, where it was laundered in currency exchange offices and invested in property in Spain and other countries, said Europol.
The operation, which also involved Estonian police, took place on May 15-16 and was the "biggest of its kind to date in Europe against such an organized crime group."
The group used "specialized encrypted communication devices" and counter-surveillance techniques to try to stay a step ahead of police, Europol said.
Operation "Icebreaker" was coordinated on an international level by Europol and Eurojust and was the culmination of many months of meticulous planning between law enforcement and prosecuting agencies.
Initially started by Lithuanian authorities in 2016, the investigation was then referred to Estonia, Poland and Europol to help gather evidence against top-level members of the network. The investigation was then rapidly extended to the United Kingdom and Spain after criminal links were established in all those countries.
The creation of an Operational Task Force between all five countries and Europol in November 2018 led to carrying out one of the largest covert police operations to date against an organized crime group.
av/rt (AFP, Europol)