Twelve men who formed a sophisticated criminal network and travelled to the United Kingdom in order to commit high value and well planned burglaries have been jailed.
The men have been sentenced over the past two days at Kingston Crown Court for their part in the commission of burglaries at commercial premises, usually warehouses or freight depots, nationwide.
During one of the burglaries a large quantity of valuable, rare books of international cultural significance were stolen. In other burglaries they stole quantities of small but high valued items, such as smartphones, laptops and tablet computers. The burglaries were well planned and the defendants often entered properties via the roof and used ropes and ladders to assist them, in order to avoid activating the buildings’ security systems.
The court heard how the organised crime group (OCG), who were all Romanian nationals, carried out their activities between December 2016 to April 2019. They were responsible for 12 offences across the UK at various locations including Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Sheffield, Feltham and Enfield.
The OCG would fly members into the UK to commit specific offences, then fly them out of the country shortly afterwards, with the stolen property being taken out of the country by other members using different transport methods.
As with any business enterprise, this was a fluid operation. Over the course of the two-and-a-half years this operation was underway, the personnel would change. Some defendants would be involved in the execution of some of the burglaries and some would be involved in the planning, which involved arranging transportation for the men and property after it had been stolen.
Officers from the Met’s Specialist Crime South launched an investigation into the OCG in February 2017. They worked in conjunction with officers from the Romanian National Police and Italian Carabinieri, supported by Europol and Eurojust, on the international operation to bring the offenders to justice and recover the stolen property. This culminated in coordinated arrests and searches of 45 addresses across the UK, Romania and Italy in June 2019.
The books were recovered on Wednesday, 16 September, following the search of a house by Romanian officers who discovered them buried underground.
As a result of several months of meticulous work and surveillance, members of the organised crime group were identified and arrested between June 2019 and January 2020.
All 12 men were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit burglary, between 1 December 2016 and 15 April 2019 and one count of conspiracy to conceal covert, disguise, transfer and remove criminal property, between 1 December 2016 and 15 April 2019.
Detective Inspector Andy Durham, who led the investigation, said: “These sentences bring a successful conclusion to a complicated three year investigation, which identified and convicted a previously unknown Romanian Organised Crime Gang.
“For over two years, this gang commuted from Romania into the UK, targeting warehouses across the country, causing huge financial losses and even forcing some to close as a result. They gave no consideration to the victims they targeted, and I am proud the Met investigation team, working with the Romanian National Police and the Italian Carabinieri, have brought their offending to an end.”
The following were sentenced on Friday, 2 October:
- Vasille Ionel Pragina, 28 (19.01.92) from Romania pleaded guilty on 26 June and was sentenced to three years and eight months’ imprisonment.
- Marian Mamaliga, 34 (06.09.86), from Romania, who pleaded guilty on 8 July was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.
- Liviu Leahu, 39 (05.01.81) from Romania pleaded guilty on 24 June and was sentenced to three years and eight months’ imprisonment.
- Daniel David, 37 (25.04.83) from Romania who pleaded guilty on 17 February was sentenced to three years and seven months’ imprisonment.
- Paul Popeanu, 35 (17.03.85) of Rossgate, Hemel Hempstead who pleaded guilty on 17 February was sentenced to three years and three months’ imprisonment.
The following were sentenced on Thursday, 1 October:
- Gavril Popinciuc, 45 (12.01.75) from Romania pleaded guilty on 24 June and was sentenced to five years and eight months’ imprisonment.
- Cristian Ungureanu, 41 (09.07.79) from Romania, but extradited from Italy pleaded guilty on 8 July and was sentenced to five years’ and one month imprisonment.
- Narcis Popescu, 34 (10.05.86) from Romania, who pleaded guilty on 17 February was sentenced to a total of four years and two months’ imprisonment.
- Traian-Daniel Mihulca, 32 (26.07.88), from Romania pleaded guilty on 24 June and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.
- Marian Albu, 41 (23.08.79) of Newton Road, Harrow pleaded guilty on 24 June and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.
- Victor Opariuc, 29 (13.11.90) from Romania who pleaded guilty on 17 February was sentenced to three years and seven months’ imprisonment.
- Ilie Ungureanu, 33 (04.08.87) from Romania, but extradited from Germany pleaded guilty on 24 June and was sentenced to three years and eight months’ imprisonment.
The OCG are linked to a number of prominent Romanian crime families who form part of the Clamparu crime group. This group is based in the Iasi region in Eastern Romania and have a history of complex and large-scale high value thefts, yet have mainly avoided prosecution by offending outside Romania.
The police investigation established that the gang were responsible for the theft of approximately £4.5 million worth of goods which were transported out of this country.
The first incident took place between 6 and 7 December 2016 at a warehouse in Peterborough. The business specialised in mobile phones, gadgets and other high value electronics.
In the early hours, the premises were burgled with entry being gained by a hole being cut in the rear metal corrugated wall of a neighbouring business before another hole was cut in the partition wall between the buildings. CCTV highlighted that the three people who entered the building went to great lengths to avoid triggering the infrared motion sensor alarms and to avoid capture on CCTV.
They stole around £200,000 worth of technology and left the location via the route of entry, carrying large sacks containing the stolen items.
The second offence occurred between 29 and 30 January 2017 at a large customs clearance agent and international freight forwarding company warehouse. At the time, the warehouse was holding a number of culturally significant books, including work by Sir Isaac Newton; the eighteenth-century Spanish painter Francisco Goya; and relating to the Italian astronomer, Galileo. These books had been shipped from Italy and Germany and were being stored in preparation for onward delivery to a book fair in the USA. The books belonged to three separate dealers.
The court heard how Popescu had booked and paid for flights for himself, Ungureanu, Opariuc, and David from Iasi in Romania to Luton.
At 19:30hrs on 29 January 2017 the men were detected on Police Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras driving towards the warehouse in a blue Renault Megane. At 21:00hrs CCTV evidence showed them arriving at the warehouse.
David and Opariuc approached the warehouse and cut holes in the perimeter fence gaining access to the vicinity of the warehouse. Holes were then cut into skylights situated in the warehouse roof. They then lowered themselves down onto shelving inside the warehouse. This enabled them to avoid activating the warehouse’s sensor-based alarms, that were situated by the doors.
They were in the warehouse for a total of five hours and fifteen minutes. In that time, they stole around 200 books and loaded them into sixteen holdalls. These holdalls were also stolen from within the warehouse. They were then taken to an unknown location.
Two days later, Christian’s brother Ilie Ungureanu, who lived in Germany at the time, arrived in the UK having flown in from Munich. Two days later, Mamaliga arrived in the UK to assist in moving the books out of the UK.
On 5 February 2017, Mamaliga and Ilie Ungureanu left the UK together in Mamaliga’s van. They travelled from Balham in south London to Dover. They left via the Eurotunnel with the books in their van.