The Baltic seize
Lithuanian drug gang trafficks 'slaves' into Ireland to sell heroin in towns around country
A BRUTAL drug gang used slaves to push heroin in rural towns all over Ireland, making millions for a Lithuania-based crime boss.
Police in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Lithuania targeted the gang this week, arresting 18 people and seizing cash and property worth €860,000.
Anti-terror police in the Baltic nation carried out a series of raids targeting the gang boss, who orchestrated the heroin dealing and people trafficking racket from his native country.
Authorities believe they have identified up to 65 victims, who are thought to have been trafficked by the gang to the island of Ireland.
This week, a prosecutor in Lithuania told how the gang used violence to control the people they sought to exploit.
"They would look for socially vulnerable people in Lithuania and promised them good jobs abroad. Under their scheme, they were taken there and forced into criminal activity, and some of them were subjected to violence," said Ruslanas Usinskas, a prosecutor from Klaipeda Regional Prosecutor's Office.
The gang is led by a 37-year-old man from Klaipeda who lived in Ireland for several years before moving back to Lithuania to oversee the criminal operations.
According to Usinskas, he used the drug money to buy various assets and to set up businesses to launder drugs cash.
The majority of the people involved had previous convictions abroad, added Usinskas.
Lithuanian police released a video and images of the raids and arrests and show wads of tightly-wrapped cash hidden in an ornate urn as well as buried in a bucket.
Alfonsas Motuzas, chief of Klaipeda County Police, said they learned about the gang selling drugs in Ireland and laundering the funds in Lithuania five years ago.
"They had ties with Irish gangs and received the majority of orders from there. The Lithuanians were in charge of the whole logistics and all other matters that had to do with the execution of the criminal activity," he said.
In Ireland, gardai arrested five Lithuanian nationals under European arrest warrants and the suspects have already appeared before the High Court.
News of the police operation was announced by Eurojust earlier this week.
"The Organised Crime Gang dismantled today was responsible for trafficking large quantities of heroin in Ireland and Northern Ireland," stated a spokesperson on Thursday.
"The leader of the OCG, a Lithuanian, was responsible for recruiting and trafficking people from Lithuania for drug trafficking and money laundering. Together with two other individuals, he set up a complex drug transport and distribution network in Ireland and the UK, in which at least 20 individuals have been involved since 2015."
The spokesperson added that the trafficked people "with the specific intent" to sell heroin on the streets of Ireland.
Cops in Kerry, Galway and Belfast had been years battling the network which used vulnerable men and women to distribute and sell the drugs.
In Kerry, one man was identified by gardai as being a key heroin dealer in the region when he was arrested with €5,750 worth of the drug at Tralee bus station in 2018.
Mantas Narkus was described in court as an addict who had been living "in squalor" before his arrest in the town.
He had 230 individual wraps of the drug hidden in a black sock and known to be part of the Lithuanian gang operating across Ireland.
Narkus had also been caught for a similar offence in Waterford and got a four-year prison sentence.
In another case in the Co Kerry town a man spotted by a surveillance team carrying out a drug deal had only arrived in Ireland that day from Lithuania.
Similar cases have also emerged in Limerick and Galway where Lithuanian nationals were caught red-handed with wraps of heroin ready for sale after arriving by bus or train.
A court in Belfast also heard an insight into the life of the gang slaves when a young woman appeared in court on charges of heroin dealing.
Described in court as a vulnerable woman, the 23-year-old Lithuanian national retched up the nine wraps of heroin as she was arrested in 2016.
Prosecutors said she was acting as a "runner" for a wider organised criminal gang selling heroin on the streets of Belfast.
The woman was among nine Lithuanian arrested by police investigating heroin dealing and claimed she came to Northern Ireland after first arriving in Galway.
A prosecutor told the court that the woman was under the control an organised crime gang, and said: "This is a fairly efficient organisation. I'm instructed that for this lady's role a replacement for her has already been put into operation."
A joint investigation team was set up between the authorities in Lithuania and Northern Ireland in 2018 with Ireland joining as the investigation progressed.