Coordinated European crackdown smashes Georgian mafia ring

Police in six European nations, including France and Spain, arrested at least 69 people on Monday in a coordinated crackdown on a “perfectly structured” Georgian criminal gang, according to Spanish judicial officials.


AFP - Police from six European countries arrested at least 69 people on Monday in a swoop on a "perfectly structured" Georgian criminal gang which stole and trafficked goods around the continent.

Most of the arrests were in Spain -- the gang's nerve centre -- as well as Germany and Austria, but suspects were also picked up in Switzerland, Italy and France, a Spanish judicial official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The suspects, who led deliberately low-key lives while allegedly coordinating crime, were held on suspicion of drugs and weapons trafficking, money laundering, extortion and conspiracy to murder, the source said.

The judicial official said 24 of those held were arrested in Spain, most of them in Barcelona and Valencia, while Swiss authorities said they had arrested 11.

"The arrest of the criminal organisation's heads deals a harsh blow to Georgian criminality in Europe," said a statement from the Swiss prosecutor's office, adding that 120 Swiss police had been involved in the operation.

Swiss authorities began investigations in April 2009, the prosecutor said, of "certain people of east European origin, mainly Georgians and Russians."

"A perfectly structured and extremely hierarchic international criminal organisation, controlled from Spain and mainly active in theft, burglary and handling stolen goods operated in several European nations notably Switzerland," it said.

The Swiss network was made up of an overall boss, and four deputies who divided the country between them, supervising crimes committed by "affiliates," prosecutors said.

Police and prosecutors from Austria, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland cooperated for months ahead of Monday's swoop, the Swiss federal prosecutor (MPC) said.

"The operation's ultimate aim was to target the overall criminal organisation, its structure, functioning, financing and codes of conduct, with the aim of dismantling it, beyond national frontiers," the MPC said.

Suspects arrested in Spain were employed by the Georgian mafia after arriving in the country, where they led quiet lives, avoiding conspicuous displays of wealth, the source said.

Three suspects were arrested in France, near Paris, as part of the operation and accused of theft and receiving stolen goods, police said.

In Austrian, police nabbed two Georgian mafia bosses during raids and seized stolen computers and jewels, federal police told Austrian news agency APA.

The crackdown was coordinated at a European level by anti-corruption prosecutors in Spain, who described it as a "major" operation, the judicial source said.

The operation is the third in Spain against organised crime gangs from eastern Europe.

Operation Avispa in 2005 and 2006 led to the arrests of 28 Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians and Spaniards.

In Operation Troika in 2008, Spanish police broke up an organised crime network based in the Russian city of St Petersburg, arresting 20 people.

Police described that gang, the Tambovskaya-Malyshevskaya, as "one of the four biggest in the world".

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