More than 80 raids took place across Europe in a crackdown on illegal firearms trafficking, leading to 1,776 weapons being seized.
The international operation involving Europe’s crime agency Europol, was aimed at Turkish-manufactured weapons illegally trafficked into the EU via Bulgaria and other countries.
Operation Bosphorus was set up and led by Romanian police and involved 24 countries, including the UK, France and the Netherlands, “to tackle the increase in weapons illegally transformed and traded”, Europol said.
“Authorities collected data and conducted intelligence analysis of the buyers and sellers of firearms this year to enable a series of investigations and activities on a national level,” Europol said.
“Between November 2 and 11 the year-long operation was concluded by joint action days.
“During the span of the action days, police officers from Albania, Greece, Portugal and Romania carried out 81 house searches.”
The operation led to 11 arrests, 3,714 cartridges of ammunition and 164 pieces of pyrotechnics being seized, along with 1,776 firearms.
The security services gathered intelligence from buyers of weapons in the EU from Bulgarian arms dealers.
“In recent years, alarm and signal weapons have become extremely popular among criminals and feature in considerable figures in firearm trafficking and seizure cases,” Europol said.
“This is due to the fact that they can be easily converted into lethal weapons and are cheaper to procure.
“Europol plays a key role in supporting member states fighting criminal networks involved in illegal weapons and explosives trafficking. As part of a wider strategy to identify the criminal networks supplying terrorist groups with firearms and ammunition, Europol experts work closely with counter-terrorism experts on international investigations.”
The raids came just days after police smashed a criminal ring of arms dealers transporting weapons to war zones.
Last week, Spanish police arrested seven suspects after breaking up an arms trafficking gang that was illegally shipping tanks to conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East.
The gang – including Spaniards, Ukrainians and Latvians – hid the smuggled Russian-made munitions in legal consignments of weapons. They were sent by ship through the Mediterranean to conflict hot spots.
The sophisticated criminal operation stretched to springing a ship’s captain from a Greek prison after he was arrested for arms smuggling, Europol said.
The criminals made millions of dollars from the operation selling tanks and other munitions, with the proceeds laundered through tax havens and back into legal businesses in Spain.
But the organisation came to the attention of the authorities during a bitter internal feud over who controlled the maritime smuggling routes.
The operation, involving police and tax officials from Spain working alongside Europol, led to the seizure of 18 properties worth about €10 million ($11.8m).
Updated: November 17, 2020 05:45 PM