Twelve members of a “sophisticated criminal network” who stole 200 rare books during a spree of high value burglaries were facing years behind bars today.
The men, who are all Romanian nationals, targeted commercial premises such as warehouses and freight depots across the UK.
One of the burglaries involved the theft of 200 rare books of international cultural significance, including works by Sir Isaac Newton and the eighteenth-century Spanish painter Francisco Goya.
In other burglaries they stole high valued items, such as smartphones, laptops and tablet computers.
A police investigation established that the gang were responsible for the theft of an estimated £4.5 million worth of goods, which were transported out of the UK
Scotland Yard said the burglaries were well planned as the defendants avoided activating buildings’ security systems by using ropes and ladders to gain entry into the buildings.
The men, who were sentenced at Kingston Crown Court on Thursday and Friday, carried out their thefts from 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 gang 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.
The Metropolitan Police described the thefts as a “fluid operation”.
Over the course of two-and-a-half years, the gang would change their personnel. 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.
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 [OCG].
“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.”
Officers from the Met’s Specialist Crime South launched an investigation into the OCG in February 2017.
They worked 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 last year.
The books were recovered on September 16 following the search of a house by Romanian officers, who discovered them buried underground.
After “several months of meticulous work and surveillance”, members of the gang were identified and arrested between June 2019 and January 2020.
According to the Met, the OCG is linked to a number of prominent Romanian crime families who form part of the Clamparu crime group in the Iasi region in Eastern Romania.
The group has a history of complex and large-scale high value thefts, yet have mainly avoided prosecution by offending outside Romania.
All 12 men were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit burglary, between December 1, 2016 and April 15, 2019 and one count of conspiracy to conceal covert, disguise, transfer and remove criminal property in the same time period.
Vasille Ionel Pragina, 28, pleaded guilty on June 26 and was sentenced to three years and eight months’ imprisonment. Marian Mamaliga, 34, who pleaded guilty on July 8 was jailed for four years.
Liviu Leahu, 39, pleaded guilty on June 24 and was sentenced to three years and eight months’ imprisonment. Daniel David, 37, who pleaded guilty on February 17 was sentenced to three years and seven months’ imprisonment.
Paul Popeanu, 35, from Hemel Hempstead pleaded guilty on February 17 was jailed for three years and three months.
Gavril Popinciuc, 45, pleaded guilty on June 24 and was sentenced for five years and eight months. Cristian Ungureanu, 41, but extradited from Italy pleaded guilty on July 8 and was jailed for five years’ and one month.
Narcis Popescu, 34, pleaded guilty on February 17 was sentenced to a total of four years and two months.
Traian-Daniel Mihulca, 32, pleaded guilty on June 24 and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Marian Albu, 41, from Harrow pleaded guilty on June 24 and was jailed for four years. Victor Opariuc, 29, pleaded guilty on February 17 was sentenced to three years and seven months’ imprisonment.
Ilie Ungureanu, 33, but extradited from Germany pleaded guilty on June 24 and was sentenced to three years and eight months’ imprisonment.