By Cormac O’Keeffe, Kerry Sheridan
A notorious Traveller criminal network which dominates a multi-million dollar global trade in stolen rhino horn is being targeted in a huge police operation in the United States.
A crackdown in the US has resulted so far in the seizure of 37 rhino horns, which authorities there have valued at between $8m (€6m) and $10m (€7.7m).
Operation Crash has not to date arrested any members of the so-called Rathkeale Rovers, a criminal Traveller network, originally from Rathkeale in Co Limerick.
The Rathkeale Rovers have become notorious across Europe and beyond for their involvement in the highly profitable rhino horn trade.
Last July, the EU police agency, Europol, said the Traveller gang was an “organised crime group” which was also heavily involved in tarmac fraud, the distribution of counterfeit goods, organised robbery, money laundering and drug trafficking.
It said their reach spread across North and South America, China and Australia and that they used “intimidation and violence” in their activities.
Europol estimate that rhino horns, which are used in traditional medicine and decoration, were worth between €25,000 and €200,000 each.
The agency said the Irish gang sourced horns by targeting antique dealers, auction houses, art galleries, museums, private collections and zoos.
It said they sold them by “exploiting” international auction houses in France, the US and China.
Europol said the gang had invested “significant proceeds of crime in Ireland — mainly in real estate and other assets”.
Rhino horn is sold in Chinese traditional medicine, as an aphrodisiac, as a decoration or to produce luxury products.
Trading in rhino horns is illegal under UN laws as they are an endangered species.
Last February, three agencies in the US — the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Homeland Security Department and the Internal Revenue Service — set up a huge operation to uncover buyers of rhino horn. More....