Europe-Wide Organized Crime Sweep Nets 1,000 Suspects

Director of Europol Rob Wainwright speaks at a press conference in The Hague March 16, 2011. Jerry Lampen/Reuters

European police made more than 1,000 arrests in a 10-day, continent-wide sweep against organized crime this month that netted suspected people traffickers and cocaine smugglers, law enforcement officials said on Wednesday.

The operation was carried out in towns, airports and harbours and involved thousands of policemen from all 28 countries of the European Union and six non-European countries.

Police identified 200 victims of human trafficking and saved 30 Romanian minors from trafficking. Some faced forced worked in prostitution or begging gangs, Europol, Europe's police organization, said.

"It's the single largest coordinated assault on organized crime ever seen in Europe," Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, told a news conference at the organization's headquarters.

He said the operation was made necessary by the increasing sophistication and interconnectedness of Europe's crime groups, many of whom were using the hard-to-monitor "dark net" - or encrypted internet - to communicate with each other.

"Months in the planning, it was a carefully coordinated series of attacks on key nodal points and crime sectors that underpin the underground crime economy in Europe," he said.

"What we have seen emerging is an integrated underground criminal economy," he said.

Arrests were concentrated on criminal middlemen and go-betweens, as crime kingpins are not typically caught in sweeps but in operations designed to ensnare them.

Dubbed "Operation Archimedes", 1,027 arrests were made between September 15 and 23. Authorities seized 599kg of cocaine, 200kg of heroin and 1.3 tonnes of cannabis.

The operation yielded leads that would result in further investigations and arrests, Europol said.

Authorities in United States and Colombia also helped in identifying new drug trafficking routes to Europe, including drugs increasingly being shipped in parcels sent by post.