More than 30 members of a notorious Irish Traveller crime network have been arrested in eight countries following a massive Europe- wide investigation.
The network, known as the Rathkeale Rovers, also operates across the Americas, Asia and Australia.
Some €9m worth of tax demands have been served on nine key members of the group, which is made up of several Traveller families.
Europol, the EU police agency, described the group as a “highly organised crime group” which was involved in a range of serious crime: counterfeit products, tarmac fraud, robbery, money laundering and drug trafficking.
The group is also known as a global specialist in the theft and illegal trade in rhino horn, which is highly prized.
Speaking in Dublin yesterday, Europol director Rob Wainwright said Operation Oakleaf was set up in November 2010 after gardaí sought their expertise in gathering analysis and intelligence about the activities of the group in Europe.
He said this group comprised “several close-knit clans” and had set up companies all over Europe in an attempt to “legitimise and cover” their illegal activities.
The group had laundered their illegal and undeclared income into properties, new luxury cars and other assets in Ireland. Nine members have so far been hit by the Criminal Assets Bureau, totalling €9m, with more demands due.
Addressing the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin, Mr Wainwright said more than 30 people had been arrested in eight countries under Operation Oakleaf.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner afterwards, he said further investigations were being conducted.
He said gardaí had been involved in 30 Europol operations in recent months and 20 investigations were ongoing. Gardaí initiated 150 investigations involving Europol in 2012.
He said such investigations were mainly concerned with “drug trafficking, human trafficking and cigarette smuggling”.
Mr Wainwright said Europol had recently taken on an “outstanding investigator” in Detective Inspector Paul Gillen, who has been appointed head of operations at Europol’s new Cyber Crime Unit.
DI Gillen currently runs the Garda Computer Crime Investigation Unit.
“He has a good national record and has a good reputation in the field, right across Europe. We have been tracking him for a while,” said Mr Wainwright.
He said the unit had three key areas to cover: online child sexual exploitation; online fraud by organised crime groups and protecting businesses and organisations from online attack.
Mr Wainwright expressed concern at the likelihood of Britain opting out of new EU justice powers post. Ireland is currently deciding whether or not to opt out.
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