2019.05.22 10:39

International investigation busts Lithuanian-led arms-smuggling gang

Lithuanian police were part of an international investigation that exposed a 22-person gang involved in illegal trade of arms and drugs.

The gang is also suspected of having organized the murder of Kaunas resident Deimantas Bugavičius in 2015.

“The individuals are suspected of having planned and carried out the murder, and also possession of firearms, narcotic substances, having organized smuggling of arms and narcotic substances, and are also suspected of money laundering,” Lithuania's Police Commissioner General Linas Pernavas told journalists on Wednesday.

The operation involved law enforcement officers from Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Estonia and the United Kingdom. Some of the detainees are Lithuanian citizens, including the gang's suspected leader who was detained in Spain.

The police carried out some 40 searches during the investigation and seized around €8 million in cash, diamonds, gold bullions and jewelry were seized. Some 4.5 tons of drugs, including cocaine and hashish, and cigarettes were also found during the operation.

According to Europol, the gang would supply drugs and cigarettes to the United Kingdom and later launder money in Poland or invest in real estate in Spain and other countries. Police suspect the gang laundered around €680 million through currency exchanges in 2017-2019.

Pernavas said that the Bugavičius murder investigation led to the gang's exposure. Bugavičius was shot dead in his car in Kaunas on November 6, 2015.

Lithuania's law enforcement earlier said it detained foreign citizens suspected of the murder in August. Police said on Wednesday they were the executors, and the individuals who hired them were detained during the latest operation.

Rolandas Kiškis, the chief of the Lithuanian Criminal Police, said the gang was not traditional. “Modern organized crime is no longer traditional. Gang members migrate from one gang to another,” he said.

The detention operation took place on May 15-16. Those involved in organized crime are facing sentences up to life imprisonment.

The investigation took more than three years. Officers say suspects used counterintelligence, countersurveillance measures and encoding devices to avoid law enforcement's attention.

Bugavičius was known to Lithuania's police and, based on media reports, was linked to the Agurkiniai gang in Lithuania.