Europol supported the French National Police (Police Nationale) and the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) in taking down a large criminal network of so-called ‘Thieves in Law’ (Vory V Zakone), who were involved in aggravated property crime, racketeering, extortion and money laundering. The investigation uncovered that the criminal network was involved in the theft and sale of stolen merchandise, smuggling of tobacco and the laundering of criminal assets.
Since November 2020, the French Criminal Police has been investigating individuals suspected to be members of the ‘Thieves in Law’ criminal structure. The investigation, led by specialised magistrates from the Court of Paris uncovered an extensive Armenian criminal organisation based in France and Spain, led by a Thief in Law in Spain.
The laundering was mostly carried out in Spain, via car mechanics and a caviar import store in Barcelona. Europol supported the operation with operational analysis that enabled national authorities to uncover links between the suspects and their criminal activities, facilitated the information exchange, and coordinated operational meetings. Europol also deployed experts to the field to provide investigators with real-time analytical support and technical expertise.
The action days on 19 and 20 June led to:
38 house searches in France (Clermont-Ferrand, Metz, Lyon, Marseille, Paris) and Spain (Alcasser, Barcelona, Lloret de Mar and Valencia)
28 arrests in France and Spain
Arrest of the chief ‘Thief in Law’
Seizures include 16 luxury watches (one of them valued at EUR 39 000), 8 vehicles, 6 weapons with ammunition, 1 bullet-proof vest, 2 GPS detection devices, over EUR 60 000 cash, numerous mobile phones and electronic devices, as well as various pieces of ‘Thieves in Law’ paraphernalia.
French and the Spanish authorities initiated the joint investigation into this criminal network in November 2020. Previous separate investigative activities of French and Spanish police into several members of the criminal group, many of Armenian and Georgian nationality, uncovered the links between the suspects and showed the extensive spread of the network. Subsequent international cooperation between law enforcement and judicial authorities advanced the investigation, while Europol supported with analysis that uncovered the well-concealed links between the members, including the leader of the criminal organisation.
Crime leader previously investigated for attempted assassination
This network followed the rules of the ‘Thieves in Law’, an especially tightly structured type of a criminal organisation originating from the criminal underground of former Soviet countries. This network specifically was compartmentalised, with stringent codes of conduct that protected the leader and aimed at ensuring its survival. The title that the leader holds guaranteed his status and authority over the other members of the criminal organisation.
The Spanish national police investigated and detained this individual in 2018 in relation to an attempted assassination of a rival “crowned” thief. This triggered further security measures from the criminal network in order to avoid police actions toward the chief of the organisation. This included its use of different vehicles registered at the name of members of the organisation, and of a house also rented on different name. The vehicles used by the leader would be regularly examined at the organisation's workshops to detect electronic tracking devices that might have been installed by the police. The close collaboration between French and Spanish authorities, supported by Europol, enabled the identification of criminal activities and links between actors, while financial investigators targeted their criminal assets. The leader of the network, subject to European arrest warrant issued by France, is now detained in Spain awaiting further actions against him.