The criminal network, active throughout the eastern Mediterranean area, obtained hundreds of millions of euros in illegal profits.
The investigation, which involved the Albanian Criminal Police (Police e Shtetit), the Hellenic Police (Ελλληνική Αστυνομία) and the Italian Financial Corps (Guardia di Finanza), with the support of Europol and Eurojust, led to the dismantling of a major organised crime group involved in migrant smuggling. The operation was conducted under the direction of Albanian, Greek and Italian judicial authorities.
The action day on 19 January 2022 resulted in:
- 28 house searches (15 in Albania, 2 in Greece and 11 in Italy)
- 29 arrests (18 in Albania, 1 in Greece and 10 in Italy)
Authorities believe that the suspects, mainly of Iraqi and Syrian origin, are part of a criminal network of around 80 members that is allegedly responsible for at least 30 maritime smuggling operations. The criminal group carried out migrant smuggling activities from Turkey to the coast of Salento (Italy), passing through Albania and Greece, and then on to other EU countries.
The investigation was triggered by the detection of an ongoing smuggling operation, which led to the successful rescue of the migrants being transported and the arrest of eight smugglers.
The criminal networks mainly used maritime routes for the transfer of migrants from Turkey, via the eastern Mediterranean road, to their final destinations in the EU. The maritime transfers were carried out using pleasure vessels, mainly yachts, acquired or rented by the criminal network and skippered by novice seamen purposely hired by the network. To receive payments from migrants, the suspects used informal money transfer services such as the hawala system, with illegal profits estimated at hundreds of millions of euros.
Europol contributed to this investigation for more than 18 months, facilitating the secure exchange of information and the organisation of operational meetings between investigators, as well as providing collaborators with regular intelligence analysis packages. During the action day, Europol deployed two experts in Albania, one in Italy and one in Greece to help check operational information against Europol’s databases and to provide technical support to data extraction and analysis of digital evidence. In addition, Europol facilitated the exchange of investigators to ensure effective tactical support to the operation during its last phase and on the action day.
Subsequently, further operational activities are also carried out at the international level, aimed at uncovering the location and identities of additional suspects involved in the criminal network.
To facilitate judicial cooperation, in January 2021 Eurojust created a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) between Albania, Greece, Italy and Europol. Eurojust set up a coordination centre during the action day and provided cross-border judicial support through the Italian and Greek countries. Eurojust facilitated and supported the exchange of information between JIT partners and Europol, and promoted five coordination meetings.
Participating law enforcement authorities:
- Albanian Criminal Police
- Hellenic Police – Aliens Division of Attica
- Italian Financial Corps (Guardia di Finanza)
- Organized Crime Investigation Group (GICO) of Lecce
- Central Organised Crime Investigation Service (SCICO)
Participating judicial authorities:
- District Anti-Mafia Directorate of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Lecce in Italy
- General Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Appeal of Athens
- Special Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime Prosecutor’s Office of Tirana (SPAK)