Suspects held across Europe as crime gang smashed – Europol

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Police have arrested 22 suspects in an operation across five countries that dismantled one of Europe's top criminal groups behind drug trafficking and assassinations, the EU's police agency said Wednesday.

The operation codenamed "Icebreaker," which took place last week, led to the arrest of the 48-year-old Lithuanian ringleader in Spain and 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 euros ($760 million) over the past two years, it said.

Around 450 police raided 40 properties, seizing 8 million euros in cash, diamonds, gold bars, jewellery and luxury vehicles, as well as hidden compartments used to smuggle drugs, Europol said in a statement.

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 organised crime group", the agency said.

The group used "specialized encrypted communication devices" and countersurveillance techniques to try to stay a step ahead of police, Europol said. –