Over 1000 arrested, 30 trafficked children rescued in Europe-wide raids

Europol director Rob Wainwright (L) and and Italian national police chief Alessandro Pansa at Europol headquarters in The Hague, September 24, 2014. (Martijn Beekman/AFP/Getty)

A multi-national coordinated assault on organised crime in Europe has resulted in the arrest of more than 1000 suspects and the rescue of at least 30 children, destined for a life of slavery.

A multi-national coordinated assault on organised crime in Europe has resulted in the arrest of more than one-thousand suspects and the rescue of at least 30 children, destined for a life of slavery.

The continent-wide raids targeted gangs involved in people trafficking, cybercrime, narcotics and illegal gun trafficking, among others.

Carried out by some 20,000 officers between September 15-23, Operation Archimedes "was the single largest coordinated assault an organised crime in Europe," Rob Wainwright told reporters in The Hague.

"It was a carefully coordinated series of attacks on the key nodal points and crime sectors that underpin the underground criminal economy in Europe and in terms of its scale and impact it ranks as a single largest coordinated assault on organised crime that we have seen in Europe."

Fact box:

  • 1027 arrests
  • 20,000 police officers
  • 30 children rescued from child traffickers  
  • 600 kgs cocaine, 1.3 tonnes cannabis, 200 kgs heroin seized

Police officers from all 28 European Union members, as well as Australia, Colombia, Norway, the United States, Serbia and Switzerland, carried out 250 operations in some 300 cities, ports and border crossings across Europe.

"What we have seen emerging is an integrated underground criminal economy, dependent on many different factors, dependent on some hotspots, depending on the freedom of movement, for example in European Union, depending on the banking system and many other things.

"So we designed an operation specifically to hit criminal infrastructure," Wainwright said at Europol's fortress-like headquarters in The Hague.

"Multiple criminal enterprises, some of them the most serious, have been disrupted right across Europe," he said, adding that the operation targeted "the infrastructure as a whole and not just isolated cases".

Italian police chief Allesandro Pansa said that the Mediterranean and Balkans had been "particular hotspots".

In total, 1,027 arrest were made, including 250 in Spain and 200 in Bulgaria.

Police focused on the growing threat of cybercrime, with criminal networks using the Internet for cross-border crimes, including money laundering.

"Romanian children are subject to labour trafficking in agriculture, construction or domestic servitude, sometimes they're forced to beg or thieve and they're also subject to sex  trafficking."

In one of the raids, 30 Romanian children were saved from child traffickers aiming to use the victims as sex slaves or slave labour, Wainwright said.

Jennifer Burn, director of Anti-Slavery Australia at University of Technology Sydney, says those children were destined to a life of misery.

"Romanian children are subject to labour trafficking in agriculture, construction or domestic servitude, sometimes they're forced to beg or thieve and they're also subject to sex  trafficking."

In total, 94 trafficking suspects were arrested, with police checking the identity of over 10,000 illegal immigrants.

Law officers seized around 600 kilos (1,320 pounds) of cocaine, 1.3 tonnes of cannabis and 200 kilos of heroin.

They also dismantled a laboratory used for making counterfeit medicine, confiscated 13 luxury cars and seized 1.5 million contraband cigarettes as well as one million euros ($1.3 million) in cash.

Police intercepted over 40 packages of cocaine sent from Colombia to Europe and several couriers carrying the drug.

Searches and arrests were made at four airports and two harbours in Colombia.

"More arrests are expected to follow," said Wainwright, adding that the operation had uncovered leads to be followed up in the "months and years" to come.

It also uncovered new routes used by criminal networks such as human traffickers and identified new criminal trends, he said.

The swoop was coordinated by Europol, whose command centre in The Hague was operating "24/7" Wainwright said.

"The operation sends a very clear message," he said.

"It clearly tells the criminal community... there will be no safe place for them to carry out their activities."