'Highly sophisticated' Eastern European thieves making a fortune in burglaries targeting rural Ireland
A major investigation is ongoing into an Eastern European criminal gang which targeted businesses in rural Ireland, stealing high-end goods and taking them to Lithuania.
Limerick Circuit Court yesterday heard Europol, Interpol and gardaí are involved in tracking the international professional burglary gang which has carried out robberies with "military precision" in Munster.
Gang member Aurimas Petraska pleaded guilty to a string of major burglaries when he appeared before the court yesterday.
The court heard the burglaries involved the theft of €150,000 of women's clothing and Chanel beauty products from boutiques and pharmacies across the region.
Prosecuting counsel Michael Collins told the court the gang acted with "military precision".
"Dressed in black fatigues, wearing head lights", the gang were seen on CCTV footage inside the premises they robbed "checking their watches at regular intervals".
The gang timed their robberies to perfection, he said. "They were highly sophisticated... in and out in six minutes."
The women's clothing, worth €80,000 and stolen from Isobel Boutique, Adare, Co Limerick, was conveyed to a Dublin logistics company to be shipped to Lithuania.
Petraska admitted transforming "cheap" cars into battering rams, capable of smashing through the premises.
He replaced the seats with concrete blocks, ensuring they were heavy enough to mount footpaths and crash through the targeted business premises.
Petraska had several previous convictions - namely for theft and public order offences. The court was told he dropped out of a university course in his native Lithuania, and came to Ireland in 2005.
He worked for a time in a Lidl store and was employed as a casual labourer.
Gardaí in Cork were tracking the gang for two years before making the arrest, the court was told.
Petraska, the only member of the gang to be charged, was arrested when members of the armed Regional Support Unit (RSU) intercepted a car traveling near Shanagolden, Co Limerick, on June 29, 2016.During the course of the arrest, a man "accompanying" Petraska was shot in the face after a Garda's gun fired "accidentally", Mr Collins said. The man spent several months in hospital.
Petraska was paid around €3,000 for each robbery. He did not disclose the identity of the gang boss.
During one of the robberies, at O'Briens Pharmacy, Cahir, Co Tipperary, €20,000 worth of Chanel products was stolen. In a burglary at O'Connor's Pharmacy, Kinsale, Co Cork, €50,000 worth of Chanel products was taken, and €10,000 damage was caused.
Petraska also admitted stealing €80,000 worth of high-end women's clothes from Isobel Boutique, Adare, Co Limerick.
In a victim impact statement, Isobel owner Kay Mulcair said she lost €240,000 in revenue. She said her insurance company was refusing to meet the loss, as the security alarm had not been set at the time.
Judge Tom O'Donnell praised gardaí attached to the Cork Division, for their "painstaking" investigative skills in tracking the gang over a two-year period.
Sentencing for Petraska was adjourned until May.