What connects counterfeit cigarette factories in Romania, blackmail and extortion cases in Moldova and a string of high-profile burglaries in France? The answer is one of the most powerful criminal groups in Moldova, known as ‘Patron’ after its ringleader, which has been dismantled last week as a result of an Operational Taskforce set up by Europol between the French, Romanian and Moldovan authorities.
A total of 50 searches were carried out in France, Romania and Moldova, as a result of which 14 Moldovan nationals were arrested (12 in France, 1 in Romania and 1 in Moldova).
The ringleader features among those arrested in Romania. He was accorded the rank of ‘thief in law’ within the Russian-speaking mafia rank structure, and is wanted in a number of high-profile cases in Europe.
During the searches, 1 700 cartons of cigarettes, 520 kg of tobacco and over EUR 200 000 in cash were seized
This organised crime group was hierarchically structured and was headed by the thief in law, who named ‘supervisors’ in charge of coordinating the criminal activities of the various branches of this gang operating in different countries.
The criminals arrested are believed to be linked to a long list of illicit activities across Europe, such as organised theft and fencing, extortion, money laundering and tobacco smuggling.
International police cooperation coordinated by Europol was central in bringing to justice the different members of this gang who were located in different European countries.
Under the umbrella of an Operational Taskforce, Europol brought together the French, Romanian and Moldovan investigators who have been working together since April 2021 to establish a joint strategy and to prepare for the final phase of the investigation.
Europol and INTERPOL also deployed their specialists to France on the action day to assist the national authorities with the tactical work on the ground.
This operation was carried out within the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) which provided financial support.
The following law enforcement authorities took part in this investigation:
France: National Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale)
Romania: National Police (Poliția Română)
Moldova: General Police Inspectorate (Inspectoratului General de Politie) Europol: European Serious Organised Crime Centre, European Financial and Economic Crime Centre