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Suspects held across Europe as crime gang smashed - Europol

The operation code-named '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.

FILE: Special intervention units from different countries give a demonstration in The Hague, The Netherlands, on 10 October 2018 after Europol and ATLAS, the European Union Law Enforcement Agency, signed an agreement to establish a permanent ATLAS Support Office at the Europol headquarters in The Hague. Picture: AFP

THE HAGUE - 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 code-named "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 $760 million over the past two years, it said.

Around 450 police raided 40 properties, seizing €8 million 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 15-16 May and was the "biggest of its kind to date in Europe against such an organised crime group", the agency said.

The group used "specialised encrypted communication devices" and counter-surveillance techniques to try to stay a step ahead of police, Europol said.

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