A Dublin-based crime gang heavily involved in organised prostitution and thefts, as well as internet and Covid-19 payment scams, was targeted by gardaí in a major search operation yesterday.
Five male Romanian criminals aged in their 20s and 30s were being quizzed last night after detectives seized documents, devices and €30,000 in cash during nine searches.
Properties including business units and residences in Malahide, Fairview and Blanchardstown were targeted by detectives from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, assisted by Romanian-speaking gardaí and gardaí seconded to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
The targeted gang is suspected of laundering €1.5m in 70 different bank accounts and has been operational in Ireland for up to eight years, according to a senior source.
Detectives also identified at least 23 fraudulent Covid-19 payment claims worth almost €100,000 in total.
Gardaí also seized dozens of bottles of high-end alcohol, including expensive vodka, brandy and Champagne.
The ringleader of the gang - a 28-year-old man who is already facing serious charges in relation to ATM frauds - was one of the five arrested.
He was being questioned under anti-gangland legislation along with another of his associates, with two others being quizzed for money laundering and another for obstructing officers during the searches.
"The 28-year-old has been based here since at least 2013 and he is a big target for gardaí - he is being questioned about directing a criminal organisation," a senior source said.
A woman who is suspected of being a "key gang member" was not arrested in this phase of the investigation, but senior sources said she is suspected of operating a number of brothels in the capital's northside in recent years.
"Investigations have established that cash ranging from large five-figure sums to small sums such as €200 have been lodged into the dozens of accounts used to launder the money," a senior source said.
"The modus operandi of this criminal network was to set up bogus companies in an attempt to evade suspicion on the large amount of transactions that were going through the accounts of the fake companies.
"What is unusual about this crew compared to other Romanian gangs operating here is that they are committing the crimes here, not just using our banks for money-laundering.
"Apart from an organised prostitution racket, this is a gang heavily involved in thefts - everything from basic shoplifting and pickpocketing to organised nationwide robberies of commercial businesses.
"Investigations have established that around one third of their income has also come from internet scams, with the majority of their victims being Irish people," the source explained.