POLICE forces across eight European countries have arrested 30 members of an Irish Traveller crime network which is involved in money laundering, drug trafficking and organised robbery worldwide.
At least nine members of the organised crime group, known as the 'Rathkeale Rovers', have been served with tax demands worth €9m by authorities – following a complex investigation headed by Europol.
So concerned were international police forces with the criminal activities of the 'Rathkeale Rovers', that a special international meeting was held at Europol in 2011 to come up with a co-ordinated approach on how to tackle the crime network.
Europol director Rob Wainwright said Operation Oakleaf was established after gardai asked for Europol's expertise in gathering intelligence about the 'Rathkeale Rovers' across Europe.
The network is made up of several Traveller families who have Irish origins.
Mr Wainwright said gardai were involved in 30 Europol operations in recent months and 20 investigations were ongoing.
Police forces in Belgium; the Czech Republic; Denmark; Finland; France; Germany; Italy; the Netherlands; Norway; Sweden; the UK; Austria; Portugal; Spain; Switzerland; and the US are involved in the ongoing investigations.
Despite the efforts of international police forces, two members of the crime network are believed to have been responsible for a daring art theft from a museum in Norway less than a fortnight ago.
The culprits broke into the Museum of Decorative Arts in Bergen on January 5 and escaped with a valuable haul of Chinese artifacts – some of which are 4,000 years old.
Europol said the crime network recently started to specialise in the theft and illegal – but highly lucrative – trade of rhino horn.
A main source of illegal income for the Travellers is derived from tarmac fraud and selling counterfeit products such as power tools and generators.
Investigating authorities said further demands on the assets of members of the 'Rathkeale Rovers' will be made and the need for the support of the Europol Criminal Assets Bureau (ECAB) has been identified to target their finances.