GARDAI have confirmed that they are co-operating with Europol in the protracted investigation into an Irish gang that is trafficking in a multi-million racket in stolen rhino horn.
Some of the latest inquiries have been centred on the Limerick area, it emerged yesterday.
The revelation followed an official disclosure by Europol last Thursday that, as part of its responsibility to monitor developments in the threat from organised crime and terrorism in Europe, the international police network has gathered intelligence that an Irish crime gang was centrally involved in the illegal trade.
"The theft of rhino horn shows how organised criminals are always on the look out for new and creative crime opportunities," said Europol.
"The attraction towards rhino horn clearly stems from the high value of this rare commodity. Depending on the size and quality of the specimen, a rhino horn can be worth between €25,000 and €200,000. Rhino horns are used for decoration, to produce luxury products and also used in traditional medicine, despite it being proven ineffective.
"Significant players within this area of crime have been identified as an Irish and ethnically Irish organised criminal group, who are known to use intimidation and violence to achieve their ends.
"To source and acquire rhino horns, the group has targeted antique dealers, auction houses, art galleries, museums, private collections and zoos, resorting to theft and aggravated burglary where necessary. To sell specimens, they have exploited international auction houses in the UK, France, USA and China."
The Europol statement, which has been corroborated by the Garda Press Office, has suggested that elements of racketeering group are also involved in a variety of other serious crimes across the European Union. These include areas such as drug trafficking, organised robbery, distribution of counterfeit products, tarmac fraud and money laundering.
"Europol and the Irish law enforcement authorities have drawn up a series of recommendations, including dedicated investigations in each country initiated, to determine the scale and nature of the threat associated with these criminals, which will be followed by targeted exchanges of intelligence through Europol, in addition to the ongoing analytical reporting and cross-matching, to reflect the group's multi-crime dimension, and a distribution of alert messages to warn potential targets with rhino horn of possible visits to defraud or attack them for their specimens, and to warn the general public and law enforcement authorities of the counterfeit products and other crimes related to these criminals."