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Gang using vulnerable Ukrainians to traffic luxury vehicles throughout Europe is busted on the Costa del Sol
Crime

Gang using vulnerable Ukrainians to traffic luxury vehicles throughout Europe is busted on the Costa del Sol

Thirteen arrests have been made including the head of the criminal gang's logistics network, a Russian citizen based in Marbella

Europa Press

Malaga

Tuesday, 4 June 2024, 15:06

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A gang that used vulnerable Ukrainians, mostly women, as mules to steal and traffic vehicles throughout Europe - and which had a leader based in Marbella - has been taken down.

National Police, in a joint operation with French, Ukrainian, Polish, German and Latvian authorities, as well as Europol, arrested 50 people. Searches and raids were carried out in Spain, Germany, France, Poland and Ukraine, and 13 stolen vehicles were seized, false documents, more than 150,000 euros in cash, firearms, an assault rifle and three grenades. The organisation made more than 4,000,000 euros over the past two years, according to police.

The investigation started at the end of 2022 after detecting an increase in the theft of high-end vehicles from rental companies, which were stolen by people moving around Spain. The same type of crime was detected throughout the European Union, prompting a taskforce to be set up.

CNP

Eurojust, a joint European investigation team was created between Malaga court and the courts of the other three intervening countries to aid the police investigation.

Officers discovered the criminal network made up of Ukrainians and Russians, which operated throughout Europe and used vulnerable Ukrainian nationals to steal high-end vehicles, which were then sold.

A Marbella-based logistics manager

The gang was divided into five tiers. In the first, the head of the organisation, a Russian who lived on a residential development in Marbella, was in charge of logistics. He was also in charge of facilitating the transport of the stolen vehicles in Europe, for which he used false documentation and number plates from various countries, obtained through a legal car rental business conglomerate with headquarters in Germany and branches in Marbella. The man was also responsible for booking containers for shipping the vehicles to countries outside the European Union.

The next tier of the criminal network dealt with the financials, which was run by a Russian based in Alicante province. This person was in charge of the financial flows between different branches of the organisation, as well financing the shipment of containers. This person was also in charge of laundering the profits obtained by the criminal organisation through a complex network of bank accounts, located both in European and non-European countries and in different currencies.

Under the supervision of the management, there was a logistical step made up of Ukrainian and Russian nationals who were based in Germany, Poland and France. They were in charge of selecting the vehicles to be stolen and locating the various car rental companies of interest. They would also be in charge of picking up the mules at the airports and transferring them to hotels and various rental companies.

The mule recruitment branch of the organisation was located in Ukraine. Made up of Ukrainian nationals, they were looking for very specific people who would favour criminal activity. Taking advantage of the conflict in the country, they were looking for poor people in a situation of need, who were recruited in exchange for money.

Due to border controls, they were looking for people who could enter and leave the country freely, with women living in poverty meeting the gang's criteria.

At the bottom of the organisation were the 'mules', Ukrainians, preferably elderly men and, especially, women, all of them in a vulnerable situation. These people were accompanied to different parts of Europe by the logistical part of the criminal organisation where they rented luxury vehicles they delivered to the organisation. The same mule was capable of renting five or six vehicles per trip in different European countries.

Vulnerable people

After stealing several vehicles in different countries, they returned to Ukraine, where another mule would take their place, travelling to other areas and stealing cars from other rental companies.

Once the vehicles were in the organisation's possession, they were manipulated and counterfeited in order to avoid detection. They were then sent to countries outside the European Union, mainly by sea in containers. The main recipient countries of the vehicles were the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and eastern European countries.

Some 50 irregular luxury vehicles were detected in various European countries including Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Portugal, Italy, Lithuania, Switzerland and Austria.

On 21 May, the final phase of the police operation concluded, when 70 searches and 13 arrests were carried out in Spain, France and Ukraine, including the leaders of the organisation.

The top management of the criminal organisation has been imprisoned, and bank accounts and various means of payment of those investigated seized. The coordination centre for the operation was established at National Police headquarters in Malaga.

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