Homes raided over rhino horn theft in Ireland

Rhino head at Norwich Castle MuseumThe thefts have included rhino horns

Dozens of homes in the Republic of Ireland have been raided in an international police investigation into the theft of valuable rhino horns.

An organised crime gang is believed to be behind the theft of goods and artefacts worth 40m euros.

The homes were raided in the Rathkeale and Raheen areas of Limerick and in Newmarket in Cork.

A large amount of documentation, cash, artefacts and paintings were recovered and confiscated. No arrests were made.

Irish police said that the raids were targeted in the three towns as part of the ongoing investigation into the assets and financial affairs of a "gang suspected of extensive criminality".

They are involved in labour exploitation, counterfeiting, tarmac scams, tobacco smuggling and the theft of rhino horns and rare Chinese cultural artefacts, Europol have said.

Organised gang

Over the last three years, there have been more than 60 recorded thefts of rhino horns and Asian art from museums and private collections across Europe.

For the last two years, Europol has been tracking a suspected Irish organised crime gang which it warned was one of the most significant players in the illegal global trade in rhino horns.

They are wanted over robberies in Italy, Germany and the UK. They are believed to have links to North and South America, China and Australia and use "intimidation and violence" in their activities.

Officers from the Republic's Criminal Asset Bureau have been involved in the Europol initiative to target the international crime gang.

Agencies in the UK, including the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and local police forces, have carried out more than 30 searches, including some in Northern Ireland, as part of the investigation.

Police in Britain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Portugal and France have all linked the theft of rhino horns to Ireland.

In April, three masked men broke into the National Museum of Ireland's Collections Resource Centre (CRC) in a warehouse in north Dublin and tied up a security man before leaving with four rhino heads, holding eight horns.

Due to the level of the robberies, some European museums have replaced the real rhino horns with copies and some of these were stolen, one in Germany.

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