Police in Spain have arrested 61 members of a Georgian organised crime group that specialised in burglaries.
Supported by Europol and authorities in Georgia and France, Spanish law enforcement officers raided 26 properties as part of the operation, resulting in the seizure of €33 000 in cash, eight vehicles, more than 7,000 packets of tobacco and multiple items of stolen jewellery.
Investigators also discovered the gang had transferred at least €300,000 out of Spain to other countries, mostly to Georgia.
In a statement, Europol said those arrested made up nine separate cells, all of which operated from bases in Madrid. The cells were linked to burglaries in a number of Spanish provinces, including Barcelona, Bilbao, Malaga, Seville and Sabadell.
Five of those detained were said to be senior members of the group, who operated in supervisory roles. Europol said the supervisors were responsible for providing logistical support to cell members, and for relaying information to the leaders of the organisation.
Some of the supervisors held legitimate jobs in Spain as cover for their illicit activities, using legal positions in sectors such as construction and security to avoid suspicion over the source of their illegally obtained profits.
Madrid MP Conception Dancausa told a press conference: “The Georgian mafia, specialising in burglaries, has suffered a new blow. The investigation has been conducted since the beginning of 2016, when the number of such crimes increased. The first arrest was carried out in June. A total of 61 people have been arrested so far.”
Spanish police said this was the largest operation against the Georgian mafia in the country’s history. The raids were the second part of Operation AIKON, a probe that previously resulted in the detention of another 50 Georgian organised crime group members.
Europol provided support for this stage of the operation in the shape of a mobile office manned by one of its experts, who was able to offer a real-time response to information gathered during the raids.
The overall leader of the organisation, who is the main target of the operation, heads the group from Italy, and is said by Europol to have a “vast criminal background”, having been involved in kidnapping and assassinations.
While not as widely known as its Italian counterpart, the Georgian mafia is one of the most powerful organised crime groups operating in Europe. Active in countries including Spain, Italy, France and Greece, it engages in extortion, racketeering and theft, gaining a reputation for business-like ruthlessness.
Spain has long been a particular focus for the organisation. Back in July 2015, Spanish police arrested Georgian crime boss Zviad Darsadze alongside 35 others in a joint operation with Europol in Valencia. Detectives accused Darsadze of being a so called thief-in-law, the highest rank in the Georgian mafia.