Foreign gangs highly active here, says report

VIETNAMESE and Lithuanian gangs are highly active in drug and property crime in Ireland, according to an EU police report.

It also shows Ireland is both a destination country and a transit point in the booming trade in cigarette smuggling.

The EU Organised Crime Threat Assessment 2011 said the gangs most involved in illegal immigration and human trafficking in Europe are Roma, Romanian and Nigerian, all of which are active in this country.

The report, drawn up by Europol, warns that the practice of trafficking for the commission of welfare benefit fraud is likely to expand across Europe.

Social welfare fraud is estimated to cost the state about €300 million a year.

The EU police agency said the large-scale domestic cultivation of herbal cannabis “continues to increase” in the EU.

“Vietnamese groups are prominent in the indoor cultivation of cannabis, particularly in the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Poland,” it said.

Last month, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said there had been about 60 detections of cannabis factories since last July, producing drugs with an estimated street value of €6m.

Vietnamese gangs were hierarchical in nature but had expanded to “incorporate specialist roles for electricians, plumbers and the management of cultivation facilities”, the report said.

It said gardeners tending the cannabis were often “illegal migrants working to pay off their transportation fees”.

The report said the exploitation of the property sector was “essential” to cannabis cultivation.

It said property agencies and holiday parks facilitated this activity “either knowingly or unknowingly,” while false documents were used to conduct mortgage fraud in buying premises.

Europol said Vietnamese gangs were diversifying from cannabis to heroin, although it is not known if this has happened yet in Ireland.

The report said Lithuanian crime groups were active in “organised property crime” such as vehicle theft, burglaries and armed robberies, in many member states, including Ireland.

“They are known to engage in high-value vehicle thefts and armed jewellery robberies,” said the report.

The assessment said organised crime groups were “increasingly active” in cigarette smuggling, a trade that sees EU governments miss out on about €10 billion in revenue.

It said preferred destinations were high tax countries, including Ireland and added: “Destination countries may also serve as transit points to larger markets in other member states, as in the case of Ireland, where the land border with Northern Ireland is susceptible to smuggling into the UK.”

The report said welfare benefit fraud was earning trafficking groups as much as €125,000 a month.

It said a “large and growing” number of illegal immigrants were from countries in which Islamic terrorist groups are active, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.


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