22 firearms traffickers arrested across Europe

In an operation led by Romania and Bulgaria, law enforcement from a total of 31 countries has targeted individuals suspected of purchasing weapons from firearms traffickers. As the procurement of illegal firearms has become increasingly difficult and expensive, individuals and organised crime often resort to converted alarm and signal weapons. These blank-firing pistols have become a weapon of choice for criminals, as certain models have proved to be easily converted to discharge live ammunition. 

Most of the seized alarm and signal weapons were models produced in Türkiye before a change in national legislation related to their production. These weapons had been imported into the EU and legally offered for sale in Bulgaria and other Member States. Once sold however, they were often trafficked across borders and converted into lethal weapons in other countries within or outside the EU. This conversion process involves modifying the weapons to make them capable of firing live ammunition, which is illegal. Once converted, the weapons are distributed via illicit channels, contributing to the proliferation of illegal firearms.

Operational results

  • 143 house searches
  • 22 arrests
  • 129 firearms seized
  • 1 492 unconverted and converted alarm and signal weapons seized
  • 24 735 rounds of unconverted, converted, and live ammunition seized
  • 6 hand grenades, 276 kilos of dynamite, 299 detonators, and over 21 kilos of gun powder seized

Common effort against illegal firearms

This operation, known as Conversus, was led by the Romanian National Police (Poliția Română) in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT). It culminated in an action week coordinated by Europol between 20-24 February 2023, involving law enforcement from 31 countries, alongside Eurojust and the European Commission.

EMPACT activity concerning illicit firearms aims to build an intelligence picture of the situation of convertible weapons in the EU. This allows Member States to take operational measures against persons who illegally purchase, convert or traffic alarm and signal weapons.

Coordinated hit against weapons traffickers

The Romanian National Police, together with the other participating countries, collected data on suspected weapons traffickers. At the same time, data collection activities were carried out in certain Member States where these types of weapons can be legally purchased without prior authorisation.

Europol analysed the collected data and drafted intelligence packages to inform the countries on targets and sales of weapons. These packages served as input for the coordinated action days in February this year.