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20 June 2013
| Press release - “Vory” operation dismantles a transnational criminal organisation from the Caucasus region
In the course of an operation aimed at executing search and seizure warrants, conducted by the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service [SEF – Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras], a criminal organisation for facilitation of illegal immigration was dismantled. This organisation facilitated the entry and stay in Portugal of foreign citizens who committed criminal offences in national territory, such as falsification of documents and house thefts.

In the course of an operation aimed at executing search and seizure warrants, conducted by the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service [SEF – Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras], a criminal organisation for facilitation of illegal immigration was dismantled. This organisation facilitated the entry and stay in Portugal of foreign citizens who committed criminal offences in national territory, such as falsification of documents and house thefts.

The operation lead to 22 detentions, 9 of them were cases caught in the act using false documents and 15 were house searches. Furthermore, were seized 7 passenger vehicles, 12.000 Euros cash, a large amount of jewellery and other stolen valuables as well as several documents and items related with the offences. This operation, carried out yesterday, followed a criminal investigation held by the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (SEF), under the guidance of Lisbon’s Department for Investigation and Penal Action [DIAP - Departamento de Investigação e Ação Penal de Lisboa].

This international criminal organisation, composed by foreign criminals from the Caucasus region, with strong ties to Russia and post-Soviet States – where is located the organisation’ leadership – proceeded to the facilitation of entry in Europe of individuals engaged in criminal offences, such as criminal association, facilitating illegal immigration, falsification of documents, aggravated theft, receiving stolen goods, among others.

The investigation was carried out by the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (SEF) and its main difficulty was to connect a number of dissimilar facts and several fake identities to an alleged global strategy of this criminal organisation. Such investigation allowed gathering relevant information, supplemented by means of the European police cooperation, leading to the conclusion that the gang members were exclusively engaged in criminal activities, through which they obtained large profits.

Relying on strong hierarchical pyramid structures, managed by the so called Vory V Zakone [“thieves in law”], these criminal groups are presently active in Europe and in mainland Portugal. Gradually, it has been noted that Georgian organised crime is currently on a hostile phase of conquest of territories in the European Union with the purpose of conducting illegal activities, including (since 2010) Portuguese territory, which is considered to be a neutral territory without competition for the vested interests of this transnational criminal organisation.

This criminal organisation had already been identified by police authorities from other European Union Member States and subject of legal proceedings (more specifically, in France and Spain). In the course of its activities in Portugal, it was possible to ascertain that they obtained and distributed false documents to the elements of the organisation with the purpose of carrying out thefts in homes, thus allowing immigration to Portugal, and securing illegal stay in national territory of foreign citizens, as well as their free movement in other countries in the Schengen area. The amounts gathered in these activities served the organisation self-financing, given that none of the gang members’ were engaged in paid activities.

The gang carried out its activities by means of decentralised units that were placed in specific areas of the country and acted separately, apparently without maintaining contact with each other, with the purpose of hinder authorities to detect their acts.

Revealing a high operative capacity and expertise in criminal activities, the active gang members acted on an organised way, discreetly entering into residential buildings in order to previously determine the type of door locks and the residents’ routines. Afterwards, taking advantage of the residents’ absence, and using lock picks and refined techniques of intrusion, they would enter the houses – without damaging the door locks – and steal cash and valuables, such as jewellery, watches, computers and mobile phones, thus leaving the house and its door without any visible signs of their presence. Part of the stolen goods where, at a later stage, sold or shipped to other countries, directly to the top leaders of the organization, either in Europe or in the country of origin.

This new form of organized crime posed constant challenges to the investigation; since these networks adopt a strategy of discreet insertion in the Portuguese society, with a view to remain out of the scope of surveillance, detection and action of the authorities. The criminal network dismantled by the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (SEF) reveals a remarkable organizational capacity, based on a culture of discipline and strict compliance with the rules imposed by the gang leaders, in addition to a high capacity to relocate and readapt in view of setbacks.

Each member of the gang had a specifically assigned function, such as polling houses to be burgled, breaking into houses, collecting, storing, sharing and disposing of the product of the stolen goods, providing false passports and Identity Cards, as well as logistical tasks such as renting houses, contracting legal services for cases where they were caught in the act of committing an offense, or starting proceedings towards legalizing fraudulent stays in national territory, by resorting to false labour contracts, providing aid and support to the members of the gang who are in pre-trial detention after having been caught in the act of committing an offense.

On the 16th of April this year, in the course of investigation and before the issuance of judicial warrants, the Immigration and Borders Service (SEF) caught two of the gang members red-handed while they burgled a household in Lisbon. On the 29th May, another four members of the group where caught in the act in exactly the same circumstances, this time in the city of Porto. Those six individuals who were members of this criminal organization are now in custody.

Yesterday’s operation involved 100 officers of the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service, who executed warrants in Lisbon, Odivelas, Setúbal and other municipalities Southbound of the River Tagus, in this case with the cooperation of 12 officers of the Setúbal PSP (Public Security Police).

The 20 detainees in operation “Vory” shall be brought before the Lisbon Criminal Court for the required questioning by the judicial authorities and, possibly, for imposing of precautionary measures.

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