€680m criminal network linked to illicit tobacco, drugs busted

A European operation has taken down a network of organised criminals linked to cigarette trafficking, illicit drugs and violent crime.

The network – described by Europol as “one of Europe’s most prolific crime groups– was centred around Lithuania but involved multiple EU countries and has also been involved in assassinations and money laundering.

The leader of the ring – a 48-year-old Lithuanian national – was arrested in Spain, and a further 21 suspects were detained in Poland, Lithuania, Spain and the UK. Around 450 police and customs officers were involved in the operation, dubbed ‘Icebreaker’, which is the biggest of its kind to date.

All told, 40 house searches took place, resulting in the seizure of €8m in cash, diamonds, gold bars, jewellery and luxury vehicles, as well as the discovery of hidden compartments used to smuggle drugs and psychotropic substances. A substantial quantity of illicit cigarettes was also seized, says Europol.

“It is believed that these criminals acquired an estimated €680 million as a result of their criminal activities for the period 2017-2019 alone,” according to the agency.

“This criminal group would traffic drugs and cigarettes into the UK, before smuggling the illegally obtained cash to Poland by different means.”

The sophistication of the network is apparent. The group used counter surveillance and counter intelligence measures to try to evade law enforcement authorities, as well as specialised encrypted communication devices.

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