An armed gang of 22 individuals involved in arms and drug smuggling was exposed in Lithuania as a result of the joint activity of police in Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Spain and the U.K. The ring of suspects also includes Estonians.
The gang is also suspected of having organized the murder of Kaunas resident Deimantas Bugavičius in 2015.
"The individuals are suspected of having organized and carried out the aforementioned murder, and also of having possessed firearms and narcotic substances, having organized the smuggling of arms and narcotic substances, and also of money laundering," Lithuanian Police Commissioner General Linas Pernavas told journalists on Wednesday.
Among those arrested are Lithuanian citizens, including the gang's suspected leader, who was arrested in Spain.
Three Estonians are also facing allegations in connection with the assassination of Bugavičius, two of whom — Arle Grabbi and Hans-Erik Ehvert — have been in custody in Lithuania since last year already. Lithuanian investigators have also connected Imre Arakas, an Estonian currently serving time in prison in Ireland, to this crime; Arakas may be handed over to the Lithuanian authorities for criminal investigation.
Altogether 40 home searches took place, resulting in the seizure of €8 million in cash, diamonds, gold bars, jewelry and luxury vehicles, as well as the discoery of hidden compartments used to smuggle drugs and psychotropic substances. A substantial quantity of contraband cigarettes was also seized.
According to Europol, the scope of the damage caused by this organized crime group is significant. It is believed that these individuals acquired an estimated €680 million as a result of their criminal activities from 2017-2019 alone. The group would traffic drugs and cigarettes into the U.K. before smuggling illegally obtained cash to Poland via various means.
The money was thereafter laundered via currency exchange offices, and subsequently invested in real estate in Spain and other countries. Leaders and members of this crime group used countersurveillance and counterintelligence measures to attempt to evade law enforcement activities, as well as specialized encrypted communication devices, Europol said.
Pernavas said that it was the Bugavičius murder investigation that led to the gang's exposure.
Bugavičius was fatally shot in his Mercedes-Benz in Kaunas on Nov. 6, 2015.
Arakas serving time in Irish prison
In December 2018, Imre Arakas was sentenced to six years in prison by the Special Criminal Court of Ireland for conspiracy to murder.
Arakas had pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to murder James Gately in Northern Ireland between April 3-4, 2017, Irish public broadcaster RTÉ reporte
In April 2017, RTÉ reported that gardaí — or Irish national police — in Dublin had arrested a suspected gunman, identified as an Estonian citizen aged 58. The Estonian was one of three men detained after armed officers from the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB) forcibly entered a house in Blakestown, West Dublin on April 4.
According to the charges, Arakas planned the murder of Hutch gang member James Gately, nicknamed "Mago," after being hired by the rival Kinahan family.
Arakas was charged on April 6, 2017, after which he remained in custody. His six-year sentence was backdated to April 4, 2017, when he was first taken into custody.
Editor: Aili Vahtla