Gardaí help to dismantle gang trafficking people and heroin across Europe
Leading members of an international heroin-smuggling gang have been arrested by gardaí during a series of raids across three countries.
The Lithuanian crime group, which set up complex drug trafficking networks in Ireland, has been dismantled following more than 60 pre-planned raids.
A total of 18 suspects have been arrested during searches in Lithuania, Ireland and the North, while assets valued at €700,000 were also seized.
The arrests followed a three-year investigation during which gardaí identified several key figures of the crime group, including one man living in Dublin. Sources said the gang would lure vulnerable people into travelling to Ireland under the pretence of legitimate work but on arrival they would be forced into street dealing.
They would be regularly ferried between the capital and other towns to avoid gardaí.
Eurojust, the EU agency which deals with judicial cooperation on criminal matters, said the operation had dismantled the group.
Detectives believe at least 65 people were trafficked into Ireland in order to deal heroin.
The lengthy investigation also identified three Lithuanians as key players.
Members of the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB) carried out eight searches in Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Kerry with the help of armed regional support units. Five men were arrested on foot of European arrest warrants issued by Lithuanian authorities and were brought before an emergency sitting of the High Court. Four were remanded in custody while another man was bailed under strict conditions.
Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, in charge of the Garda’s investigations into serious and organised crime, said the operation illustrates “the potential to tackle suspected criminal activity engaged in by those who are involved” in crime on an international dimension.
It had identified a Lithuanian man responsible for recruiting and trafficking people from his country into Ireland to move drugs and launder money. Investigators also identified his two main lieutenants, who assisted in setting up a complex drugs network on both sides of the Border since 2015.
At least 20 people were suspected of involvement in running the criminal enterprise.
The case was referred to Eurojust in 2017 due to the cross-border dimension of the criminal activity and the following year a joint investigation team was set up between agencies in Lithuania, Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Jari Liukku, head of Europol’s serious organised crime centre, said the arrests were “the culmination of a major investigation involving teams from across Europe working closely together to target criminals causing harm in local communities”.