Tag Archives: Europol

Europol dismantles smugglers network

Brussels 30.09.2020 A major operation involving law enforcement authorities from Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, supported by Europol and Eurojust, led to the dismantling of a large network of criminals smuggling migrants in life-threatening conditions through the English Channel.

The action spanned over two days, 28 and 29 September. Law enforcement officers from the Belgian Federal Police (Federale Politie, Police Fédérale), British Immigration Enforcement, the Dutch Royal Marechaussée (Koninklijke Marechaussee) and the French Border Police (OCRIEST/BMR62, Police Aux Frontières) within the French National Police (Police Nationale) worked together and 12 suspects were arrested (seven in France, two in the Netherlands and three in the UK). The overall seizures during the two action days included 12 vehicles, 10 rubber boats and engines, 158 life jackets, a caravan, a boat trailer, jewellery, about €48 000 in cash, documents and mobile devices. This investigation targeted a developing trend of migrant smuggling involving small boats across the English Channel, a criminal activity which has escalated exponentially in recent months with increased interceptions in France and the UK.

Overloaded boats and rough weather
This organised crime group consists mainly of Iranian nationals living in France, the Netherlands and the UK. The network was smuggling migrants with small boats from the north coasts of France to the UK. The suspects had connections in different countries to organise their criminal activity. Members of the criminal group purchased inflatable boats and engines from Germany and the Netherlands and transported them to the departure points. There, they taught the migrants how to operate the boats while charging an average of €3 000 per person for the crossings.

The various elements gathered during the investigations confirmed that this criminal organisation would have facilitated the illegal sea crossing of a large number of migrants. This transportation in overloaded boats, and often in very difficult weather conditions on one of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in the world, endangered both the lives of the migrants and the law enforcement officers involved in rescue operations at sea.

Europol supported the operation by facilitating the information exchange, organising operational meetings and providing analytical support with two intelligence analysts dedicated to this high-priority case. On the action day, Europol set-up a virtual command post to facilitate the operational coordination and exchange of information between law enforcement officers on the ground in real time.

To support national authorities in this high priority investigation, Eurojust set up in June 2020 a Joint Investigation Team with Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Europol. Eurojust further facilitated the successful cooperation of the judicial authorities of the countries involved.

In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organised crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 – 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU Member States, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. Facilitation of illegal immigration is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.

Europol: Spain exotic birds traffickers arrests

Police have recovered 280 exotic birds, valued at over one million euros, among which featured macaws, parrots and cockatoos, all of which are endangered species protected by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). These birds were destined to be sold to North African countries – Morocco in particular, where the demand for them is high.

Codenamed ‘ORATIX’, this operation took place earlier this year in February and March in the Spanish cities of Malaga, Murcia, Granada, Alicante and Asturias.

The investigation initiated in 2019 uncovered how this criminal group would sell these endangered species to North African buyers using forged documents. The criminals would then arrange for the birds to be smuggled out of Spain hidden in buses heading to the African continent. The traffickers were supported by a Moroccan citizen who worked in a travel agency and arranged the logistics. They also developed their illegal business online, where they would sell birds but never deliver them, despite the buyers having paid for them. In addition, over 400 marijuana plants were discovered during the house searches, indicating that this group of traffickers was involved in a variety of criminal activities.

Europol supported this investigation from its on-set, providing operational and strategic analysis and piecing together evidence to identify the route used by the smugglers. One of its experts was also deployed on-the-spot in Spain to assist the law enforcement authorities with the cross-checking of information against Europol’s databases.

It is believed that parrot smuggling worldwide is on the rise. Some species can reach several hundreds of thousands of euros on the black market. The demand driving this illicit trade comes from collectors and breeders, but also citizens who want them as pets. However, this desire to own such exotic birds is killing them off.

A number of parrot species are threatened with extinction due in part to pressures from collecting for the pet trade. There is however legal protection in place. All but two parrot species are protected under CITES, as a result of which their commercial trade is either prohibited or strictly regulated with export permits.

With dedicated staff working on environmental crime, Europol supports EU Member States in their investigations to stop criminals damaging our ecosystems beyond repair.

€10M worth Romanian traffic gang arrest

An unprecedented law enforcement operation involving five countries has resulted in the takedown of one of the most active networks of cargo thieves operating across Europe. Composed of over 100 members, this organised crime group is believed to have committed over 150 acts of cargo theft for a total estimated damage worth in excess of €10 million. (Image: illustration).

The coordinated actions took place under the umbrella of a joint investigation, code-named ‘ARROW’, coordinated by Europol at the international level.

The latest phase of Operation ARROW has resulted in the arrest today in Romania of 37 members of this highly professional criminal syndicate. 73 house searches were carried out in the early hours of the morning across the country by the Romanian National Police (Poliția Română) and the French National Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale) with the support of Europol on-the-ground.

These arrests this week in Romania follow those in other European countries of other members of the same criminal group. 10 suspects were arrested in France earlier this year by the French National Gendarmerie as part of a parallel action. A further 10 suspects were arrested in Spain, 6 in the Netherlands and 5 in Sweden. European arrests warrants have been issued for the remaining members at large. 

The arrested individuals, who are originally from Romania, are suspected of carrying out thefts from moving lorries, even as the drivers continued to drive – obvious to the crimes – at high speed on motorways. 

Executing such thefts requires a high degree of sophistication. One car would start to drive slowly in front of the lorry while two other cars held up the other traffic. A fourth car would drive up close behind the lorry. One of the criminals would climb out of the car’s sunroof onto the bonnet and break open the lock on the lorry with an angle grinder. The valuable cargo would then either be transferred to their vehicle, or thrown on the side of the road to be picked up later. The driver of the lorry and other road-users were often completely unaware of what was going on.

Involved from the very onset of the investigation in December 2016, Europol brought together the different police forces involved to help them connect the dots between their own national investigations and provided analytical support before and during the action days. 

Europol: Migrant smugglers arrests

The French Border Guard together with the French National Police (Police nationale) and the Dutch Royal Marechaussee (Koninklijke Marechaussee), supported by Europol and Eurojust, dismantled a large criminal network involved in migrant smuggling.

On the action day, law enforcement authorities arrested 23 suspected members of the criminal network (19 in France and 4 in the Netherlands), carried out five searches and seized firearms and vehicles. Irregular migrants discovered during the searches were brought to safety.

The criminal network is suspected of having facilitated the transportation of around 10 000 Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi-Kurdish and Syrian migrants from the French areas of Le Mans and Poitiers to the United Kingdom. The migrants were transported in life-threatening conditions, concealed in refrigerated – often-overcrowded – lorries (up to 20 migrants in a lorry).

The migrants paid up to €7 000 for the dangerous journey. The payments were collected via an undercover hawala banking system run by a suspect established in the Netherlands.

In total, the criminal gang is suspected to have gained around €70 million in profit from their illegal activities.

Europol supported this high-priority case by organising two operational meetings, facilitating the information exchange and providing tailored analytical support. On the action day, Europol deployed two experts on-the-spot, one in France and one in the Netherlands, to cross-check operational information in real-time. This case was also developed as part of EMPACT JOT Dunqett operational action.

Image: Europol courtesy

Spain horsemeat sham

The Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), supported by Europol, has dismantled an organised crime group selling horsemeat which was deemed unsuitable for human consumption. The criminal organisation – active in the province of Barcelona – falsified documents to support their illegal activities. Law enforcement also carried out searches in various horse stables in Catalonia.

Officers from the Spanish Environment Protection Service (SEPRONA) detected that the horsemeat unfit for human consumption on the market came from 300 horses slaughtered in slaughterhouses. The documents of more than 10 000 horses were checked during the searches. The operation resulted in the arrests of 15 suspects and the investigation of 13 others. The investigation led to the seizure of 185 falsified horse passports and the detection of 100 other horses uncompliant with food market regulations.

The members of the criminal network, active since 2015, falsified the horse passports in slaughterhouses and farms in the province of Barcelona. The seized false documents confirmed that the organised crime group could have been responsible for introducing meat from hundreds of slaughtered animals onto the market, which failed to comply with national and European regulations. The slaughterhouse, several livestock farms, cattle dealers and veterinarians were all involved in the criminal activities.

Spain: Cupid fraud for migrants

On 10 December 2019, the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), supported by Europol, dismantled an organised crime group involved in the facilitation of illegal immigration by arranging sham unmarried partnerships in Spain. The partnerships of convenience were set up to ensure legal permanent permits of residence for irregular migrants.

The operation led to 11 searches of properties and companies, 30 arrests and the seizures of a luxury car, over €10 000 in cash and a high number of documents. Solid evidence of facilitation of illegal immigration and document fraud was found during the searches.

The organised crime group recruited Spanish women willing to be part of unmarried partnerships. Non-EU migrants, wanting to migrate or formalise their stay in Europe, acquired similar rights of EU citizens through the fraudulent partnerships with the Spanish women. Each migrant had to pay between €8 000 and €12 000 for this service. The woman in these pretend partnerships were paid €3 000 for their “I do” as a pretend partner.

The members of this highly complex organised crime group owned several shell companies and were Moroccan and Spanish nationals. The women, also members of the crime group, were registered as employees in these companies. Their employment contracts allowed them to justify their revenues and gave the companies a legitimate legal appearance. A money laundering component was also detected during the investigation.

Europol provided coordination and analytical support and facilitated the information exchange. On the action day, Europol also deployed experts on-the-spot to cross-check operational information in real time against Europol’s databases and to provide technical expertise.

Europol cyber offensive against IS

Between 21-24 November, law enforcement and judicial authorities in Europe launched a joint action against the so-called Islamic State (IS) to disrupt the online activities of this terrorist organisation.

The referral action coordinated by the European Union Internet Referral Unit of Europol, supported by Eurojust was joined by 12 Member States and 9 online service providers. It led to the referral of a total of over 26 000 items of IS-supporting content. This process is based on the referral by Europol of branded terrorist propaganda to online service providers who are responsible for evaluating it to establish any potential breach of their terms of service, to ensure that the rule of law is implemented and freedom of speech is safeguarded.

The operation was led by the Belgian Investigating Counter Terrorism Judge and the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office, together with the Belgian Federal Judicial Police of East-Flanders.

Within this operation the Guardia Civil carried out an arrest in Spain of an individual suspected of being part of the core disseminators of IS terrorist propaganda online. This arrest was carried out in coordination with the Central Magistrate’s Investigating Courts number 3 and 5, and the Prosecutor’s Office of the Audiencia Nacional.
 

Europol strikes traffic of minors

Europol supported a pan-European operation against trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation, forced begging and labour exploitation. The operation, led by the United Kingdom, involved law enforcement authorities from 15 EU member states, Iceland and Switzerland*Between 17 and 23 June 2019, over 127 000 individuals, 63 800 vehicles and 1 100 locations were checked. Law enforcement authorities searched private properties, commercial establishments, hotels, buses and train stations, ferry ports, airports and border crossings.

Prevention campaigns in schools to inform minors of the risks of human trafficking were also part of the operational activities. The overall results include 34 arrests for trafficking of human beings and 36 arrests for other offences such as robbery, dissemination of child sexual exploitation material and facilitation of illegal immigration. During the action days, 206 potential victims were identified, 53 of which were confirmed to be minors. These activities enabled the initiation of 31 new cases of human trafficking across the different participating countries.  

During the operation, experts in trafficking of human beings from law enforcement agencies, child protection officers, social workers, representatives of municipalities and non-governmental organisations joined efforts to identify potential victims and investigate cases of child trafficking. Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to provide leads to investigators. 

 *The following countries participated to the Joint Action Days: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Spain: Traffic of rare animals dismantled

A Spanish criminal network trafficking rare animals has been dismantled by the Spanish Guardia Civil after more than 600 reptiles from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania were found. Nine people have been arrested and seven, suspected members of the criminal network, are under investigation. (Image: illustration)

Members of the criminal group bought the animals from Australia, the Fiji Islands, Mexico, New Zealand, Oman and South Africa, then illegally transported them to Spain.

This operation was aided by Europol, which provided analytical and operational support to all Member States involved. Europol assisted Guardia Civil officers by deploying a team to Spain with a mobile office and UFED extraction capabilities on the internationally-coordinated action day, providing them with real-time intelligence analysis and forensic support. This helped to identify transnational links with other serious and organised crimes. Overall law enforcement authorities from 17 countries worldwide were involved in the operation.

Europol arrests travel ID criminal network

Europol reports arrests conducted by the Organised Crime Unit of the Hellenic Police (Greece) of 11 members of an international organised crime group involved in stealing and falsifying travel documents to facilitate for profit the movement of illegal third-country nationals through Europe.

During the course of this Europol-supported investigation, police officers identified members of the criminal organisation and the locations used to conceal the documents. The group stole documents from pedestrians, passengers on public transport and parked vehicles. The network also cooperated with others who illegally obtained travel documents belonging to third-country nationals. They then sold the documents on at prices based on the type of identity document, the country of issue and matching personal likeness of the original owner. Members of the group residing in France often forwarded genuine lost or stolen travel documents using international courier companies.

During an extensive operation in Attica, Greece, 11 members of the network were arrested, six of them Algerian nationals, three Syrian, one Tunisian and one from Palestine. Seven house searches were carried out and 939 travel documents were confiscated. 620 of these were recorded as lost or stolen in European databases. EUR 30000 in cash, a vehicle, forgery equipment, fraudulent documents, stamps, receipts for financial transactions and a large number of digital devices were also seized.

 

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