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Investigations initiated by the Austrian Federal Police (.BK), and supported by Europol, have led to the dismantling of a Lithuanian-based organized crime group, responsible for ram-raids throughout Europe. Several arrests have been made, including four of the leading characters from the gang.
When the Austrian Police (.BK) realized the nationality of the ram-raiders as Lithuanian, they started to work in close cooperation with Europol. Criminal intelligence showed that there were also links to Belgium, France, Italy and Sweden – the criminals had been changing their target countries regularly in order to try and cover their tracks. Europol and Eurojust then hosted operational meetings, at which details of the future police operation were discussed.
The gang had been in action since 2008. During this 2-year timespan, they are suspected of at least 24 ram-raids in Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Sweden, for an estimated amount of some 1.5 million euros.
The gang’s methods were not very sophisticated, indeed: they used to drive stolen vehicles right through the main entrances of large electrical retailers, sometimes using a stone cutter to remove protective bollards outside the store first. Up to 5 people would rush into the store, smash the showcases and quickly bag a haul of high-value electronics such as cameras, mobile phones, notebooks, and MP3 players. On average, each break-in took no longer than 90 seconds.
Lithuanian authorities gave maximum priority to solving this case and as a result, 55 police officers from Lithuania, supported by colleagues from Austria and Sweden, with two Europol officers on-the-spot, carried out 16 house searches. 9 suspects were arrested and together with 9 members of the Lithuanian gang already in custody, 18 persons in total are behind bars.
Four operating criminal groups were identified during the investigation and intelligence revealed that the leaders of each group were instructed by their Lithuanian bosses as to which shops they should target and which goods should be stolen. The group leaders would then travel with their ‘soldiers’ to carry out the ram-raids.
Before each crime, the target store was well observed by the group leaders, who then drew up plans and briefed each ‘soldier’ on their specific tasks. After the raid, stolen goods were taken back to Lithuania via trucks or specially-reconstructed vehicles, and were then handed over to the bosses of the organised crime group, who organised the further sale and distribution of the goods.
Dr Ernst Geiger, Head of Organised Crime Investigations at the Austrian Federal Police (.BK) said, “This operation is an excellent example of how our national strategy for combating theft and break-ins, coupled with strong international cooperation, can effectively tackle organised crime groups from other countries”.
Rob Wainwright, the Director of Europol, praised the work of the investigators and the Europol analysts, describing the outcome as “delivering a major blow against a prolific and dangerous criminal gang”.