Gardaí and international police units are investigating a "professional" burglary gang which has targeted businesses in Munster.
During a recent operation aimed at stopping the Eastern European gang, a man was “accidentally” shot in the face and seriously injured by armed gardaí, a court was told on Friday.
Aurimas Petraska, an associate of the man who was shot, pleaded guilty to a string of major burglaries, involving the theft of €150,000 of women’s clothes and Chanel beauty products, from pharmacies across Munster.
The gang operated with military precision, Michael Collins, prosecuting, told Limerick Circuit Court.
“Dressed in black fatigues, wearing head lights”, the gang were observed on cctv footage inside the premises they robbed “checking their watches at regular intervals”.
The gang timed their robberies to perfection, he said. “They were highly sophisticated . . . in and out in six minutes.”
Petraska admitted transforming “cheap” cars into battering rams, capable of smashing through the premises. He spray-painted the windows of the cars, and replaced the seats with concrete blocks, ensuring they were heavy enough to mount footpaths and crash through the targeted business premises.
All available garda resources were put into tracking the gang's movements, the court heard. International police units at Europol and Interpol are involved in the "ongoing" investigation.
Petraska, the only member of the gang to be charged, was arrested when members of the armed Regional Support Unit (RSU) intercepted a car travelling near Shanagolden, on June 29th, 2016.
During the course of the arrest, a man “accompanying” Petraska was shot in the face after a garda’s gun fired “accidentally”, Michael Collins, prosecuting, said.
The man spent several months in hospital to treat his serious injuries.
Petraska said he was paid around €3,000 for each robbery. He did not disclose the identity of the gang boss. During one of the robberies, at O'Brien's Pharmacy, Cahir, Tipperary, €20,000 worth of Chanel products was stolen. In a burglary at O'Connor's Pharmacy, Kinsale, Cork, €50,000 worth of Chanel products was taken, and €10,000 damage was caused.
Petraska also admitted stealing €80,000 worth of high-end women's clothes from Isobel Boutique, Adare, Co Limerick.
In a victim impact statement, Isobel owner Kay Mulcair, said she lost €240,000 in revenue. She said her insurance company was refusing to meet the loss, as the security alarm had not been set at the store when the burglary occurred.
Kieran O’Connor, O’Connors Pharmacy, Kinsale, said he spent €40,000 on security after the robbery there, including having anti-ram bars installed outside the front of his premises.
Judge Tom O'Donnell praised gardaí attached to the Cork Division, led by Det Insp Joe Moore; Det Garda Michael Brosnan, and Det Garda Ailish Murphy, for their "painstaking" investigative skills in tracking the gang over a two-year period.