Sunday, 21 August 2005

Baltic crime gangs hook up with IRA

Sunday August 21 2005
GARDAI fear that organised crime gangs from Lithuania have established links with Irish criminals and IRA cigarette and fuel smugglers and are now preying on immigrant workers.

Contact has been made with Lithuanian police and justice officials through the European-policing liaison organisation, Europol, as gardai believe the former Soviet Baltic state, which is now in the EU, is the source of most of the smuggled tobacco coming into the country by groups controlled by the border IRA.

Earlier this year, a group of Lithuanians were found unloading a container of cigarettes at a warehouse in Drogheda. They were believed to have been hired by IRA figures who have developed close links to organised criminals in Lithuania.

Gardai had previously become aware of Lithuanians involved in a car theft scam in which a gang based in Leixlip were stealing luxury vehicles, dismantling them and sending parts back to be sold on the black market in Lithuania.

Gardai are also concerned at the spread of violence within the Lithuanian immigrant community here. Lithuanians are more likely that any other group of foreign workers here to be involved in serious violence, usually arising from drunken rows, it has emerged.

Eight Lithuanians have been killed in the past three years, the body of the latest victim was found at a house in Cavan only three weeks ago. In June, the body of another Lithuanian worker, who had been stabbed to death, was found at the side of a road outside Dunboyne, Co Meath.

Gardai say that in most cases involving deaths or serious injury, drink was involved. Particularly, Lithuanian men working in low-paid jobs and living in poor lodgings are prone to drinking cheap black-market vodka, known as 'Chucky vodka' in border areas where it is peddled by people associated with the IRA.

Gardai last week arrested three men and two women in Co Monaghan in connection with extorting money from other Lithuanian immigrants working in the border area. The discovery of the extortion racket has given rise to fears that organised crime, which is endemic in Baltic states, is spreading to Ireland with the criminals preying on members of their own community.

The vast majority of Lithuanians here are hard-working and law-abiding, gardai point out but many are working long hours in low-waged jobs. Violence breaks out after prolonged drinking bouts. Most of the eight killings since 2002 have involved stabbing.

The first two killings occurred in the border area in May 2002 and the bodies of the two victims were dumped in undergrowth near a golf course at Warrenpoint, Co Down. Both victims were stabbed after a row with another Lithuanian worker over money. Arunas Petrauskas, 46, was stabbed to death after a row in Cootehill, Co Cavan in February, 2002.

In May 2003, Tomas Lukosevicius, 30, was stabbed to death after a drunken row in a rented house in Lucan. Another man, Grevydas Strelcunas, 37, died from injuries after a fight in north Dublin in June last year. Also last summer, the body of a Lithuanian man who had been in Dublin for only a few days was found in undergrowth off the Glen of the Downs dual carriageway. He was named as Arunas Gelzinis, 42.

Last November, the body of Andrus Zakarauskas, 22, was found in Raheny. He died from head injuries. And, the body of Mindavyas Janavicius, 21, was found in the Cavan house he shared with other Lithuanian workers on July 24 last.

There are 20 Lithuanians in prison here, 19 men and one woman. Nine have been sentenced and 11 are on remand.

Gardai say that as with other immigrant groups in Ireland, crimes committed by Lithuanians tend to be aimed at fellow nationals. Gardai have been making efforts to liaise with members of immigrant communities to ensure that they feel confident enough in the police and justice services to report crimes.

Senior officers say that while many immigrants felt they could trust the police and courts, many illegal immigrants did not feel confident in dealing with the authorities and could be subject to intimidation and extortion by criminals within their own communities. The gardai are aware of extortion by members of Triad gangs here preying on young Chinese workers.

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