32 arrested in hit on major European crime ring
British, Irish and Spanish police launched simultaneous dawn raids Monday in a coordinated hit aimed at smashing a major European drugs and weapons empire.
They arrested about 32 people, including the suspected head of the group, across the three countries, Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency said.
"The target was a criminal network suspected of trafficking huge quantities of drugs and firearms and of laundering hundreds of millions of pounds (dollars, euros) in criminal profits," SOCA said in a statement.
The gang's suspected crime lord, a 53-year-old Irish-born Briton living in Malaga, was arrested in the southern Spanish coastal resort.
Spanish officers detained him along with family members, other British and Irish nationals and four Spanish lawyers.
The 20 suspects arrested in Spain were being questioned in Malaga.
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, speaking on Spanish television, called it "an operation against well-known mafia operating in different countries."
In Britain around 230 officers raided homes and businesses, with nine men and two women across southeastern England and the west Midlands arrested and taken for questioning.
"The scale of this joint operation by law enforcement agencies from so many countries is an indication of how prolific we think this network was," said SOCA's Trevor Pearce.
"Today's arrests will have dealt a major blow to an organised criminal business suspected of supplying drugs and guns to gangs in cities across the UK and Europe.
"We also believe this network has been offering a global investment service, ploughing hundreds of millions of pounds of dirty cash into offshore accounts, companies, and property on behalf of criminals. A financial investigation is already under way."
Properties were also searched in Ireland, Belgium, Cyprus and Brazil. Irish police were questioning one man in Dublin.
Detectives were seeking further suspects in Britain, Spain and Ireland.
About 750 officers were involved in the operation, run from command centres in Malaga, London and Dublin.
© 2010 AFP