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How Lithuanian gang trafficked 'slaves' into Ireland to sell heroin in rural towns

The head of the gang, career criminal Kestutis Klemauskas, showed up in Ireland in the mid to late 2000s

Kestutis Klemauskas is arrested in Lithuania in 2020

Clodagh Meaney

A Lithuanian gang who trafficked slaves into Ireland to sell heroin placed 'agents' across the south and west of the country.

Known as ‘The Russians’, the gang fuelled Northern Ireland’s emerging heroin market from the mid-2000s and later placed agents in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Kerry after being run out of Dublin by bigger gangs.

Journalist Paulie Doyle, who wrote a lengthy investigation into the topic for Vice World News, joins Nicola Tallant on this week’s episode of Crime World.

The head of the gang, career criminal Kestutis Klemauskas, showed up in Ireland in the mid to late 2000s, Paulie explains.

“He was involved in stuff like shoplifting rackets and various different criminal enterprises,” says Paulie. “He gets involved with selling heroin and other drugs at some point, and with a group of his mates tries to start an operation in Dublin.

Kestutis Klemauskas, the alleged overall boss of ‘The Russians’ gang, is arrested in Lithuania in 2020

“They discover that Dublin is pretty much sewn up, so they start to move northwards. First they end up in Louth and then they go to Belfast, where a few of them move to a house on the Donegall Road, a loyalist area, and start selling heroin.”

Paulie said that at some point the gang decided they needed more foot soldiers and decided to start trafficking slaves from Lithuania into Ireland.

“These guys went after some of the most vulnerable people in society. So that could be drug addicts, alcoholics, or people who just left prison,” he says.

Paulie details how gang members would trick desperate victims into thinking they were heading to the Emerald Isle for a better life, working in security or construction.

“They would go up to them and say ‘we can give you a great job, we’ll bring you to Ireland’ and then these guys – because they were maybe in poverty and desperate – they might not ask as many questions as someone else might.”

Upon arriving in Ireland, they were beaten, starved and threatened.

“They come here, the gang would take their passports, their documents, tell them they are in debt and ‘how you’re going to repay that is to sell drugs on the streets on our behalf and if you don’t do that we’re going to kill you’.

“This happened to 65 victims, but we spoke to a former affiliate of the gang who said it was probably hundreds of people that they did this to.”

Discussing the gang’s reputation, Paulie revealed: “That’s something we spoke to a criminologist called James Windle for the [Vice] article.

“Some of these eastern European gangs – because of popular depictions of Russian gangs in movies and that – they can arrive in other countries with a pre-made fearsome reputation that’s often in their benefit.”

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, a 2019 report showed that Ireland has the second highest street price of heroin in Europe.

This, Paulie says, is why the gang had eyes on Northern Ireland.

“It’s even more expensive in Northern Ireland and I think one of the reasons why these guys were attracted to the North was because the profit margins were so high.”

- For more on the Lithuanian gang who flooded Ireland with heroin through their network of slave dealers, listen to Episode 103 of Crime World with Nicola Tallant, available to listen to now, wherever you get your podcasts.

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