European criminal gangs have been flying into the UK on budget airline flights, going on ‘crime spree holidays’, and flying out again to avoid detection. Brian Donald, Europol’s chief of staff said that the gangs commit “volume crimes” – pickpocketing, house breaking and car stealing – before moving on to other countries.
Speaking at The Hague, Mr Donald said that crime bosses were handing their workers low cost tickets with instructions to carry out as many crimes as possible during their vacation before returning home and moving onto another country. The Telegraph reports he said:
“We have seen this phenomenon of mobile organised crime groups who are nationals of one country but operate across multiple countries.
“They just do volume crime – they steal wallets, cars, break into houses, you name it and then they are plucked out of the area they’re in and sent home, before they are shipped out to another country.
“There is whole infrastructure behind them that takes the stolen property and moves it on so they are free to fly in and out and just do the crime. So you have a crime wave in one area, it lasts two weeks and then it’s gone.”
Mr Donald used the example as an illustration of how Europol can be of benefit to European nations, explaining: “If the team that are doing it [the crime sprees] are from six or seven countries away from say the village you are in, what chance does the village cop have on his own? That is where we come in.”
Another area of concern to Europol is that of firearms, Mr Donald said, continuing:
“It is a reoccurring theme in the conversations I have with police chiefs across Europe – that organised crime gangs, and terrorists, have access to military grade hardware. Charlie Hebdo, Tunisia, the foiled plot in Verviers in Belguim – there have been so many recent examples of military grade hardware, automatic weapons, assault weapons being used.
“I would highlight Charlie Hebdo in particular because all the evidence suggests, and I have not seen anything from a Europol perspective that contradicts this, the weapons were bought on the illicit market.
“This was not a great terrorist conspiracy. If you think back to the days of the IRA and the boat allegedly coming from Libya with weapons, it is not as sophisticated as that. It is a guy getting on a train to Brussels where he meets a guy and buys a gun. It makes it so much harder to police.”
The internet also makes policing more difficult across the world, as it enables people to hide behind their computers where they would once have been out on the streets.
Mr Donald explained: “The world has changed so much, you no longer need to wait on a street corner for some guy to come along and buy your smack, you just go on the dark web and order it and it comes in vacuum pack bags which are difficult to trace by sniffer dogs.”
“Another issue is the situation in the Mediterranean with human trafficking.
“How do you deal with that because the organisers are not sitting in Sicily or mud huts in Africa, the guys making the money are sitting in London, Paris or Milan in very nice apartments making phone calls and buying boats.
“It needs a pan-European response.”
According to Mr Donald, that is where Europol comes in as it offers that response.
Citing a drugs case in which the Slovak police were aware that a gang was picking up drugs from a Spanish boat, the Spanish who knew only that people who move drugs on were “getting busy”, the Lithuanians who knew only that drugs had left the country, and the British who knew the name of the Spanish boat, Mr Douglas said: “We coordinated all of that here at the Europol offices, round the table and you just can’t do that without an agency like ours.”