Police target notorious Al Zein crime clan with armed raids in Germany

Officers searched 30 properties in money laundering and organised crime investigation

A suspected senior figure of the notorious Al Zein gang was arrested on Tuesday during raids on 30 homes and businesses in western Germany targeting money laundering and organised crime.

Police used an armoured vehicle to ram the gates of a villa in the city of Leverkusen, before arresting a man and woman inside, German daily newspaper Bild said.

It published pictures of a man in a jogging outfit and a woman being led away.

The raids on homes, offices and shops across the state of North-Rhine Westphalia were connected to the operations of the Al Zein clan within Germany, a Dusseldorf police spokesman said.

The group is one of the best known of the estimated 20 family-based organisations that control crime in Berlin and elsewhere in the country.

Members include some descendants of the 14 million foreign workers who flocked to help rebuild Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War.

German officials said they arrested a 46-year-old man, his wife, 42, and their sons, 24 and 28, during the raids in Leverkusen and Duisburg.

About 30 properties were raided where police seized at least $408,000 in cash, a $37,000 watch and a collection of jewellery and luxury bags, Heike Schultz of the Dusseldorf police department said.

Police found weapons including an AK-47 assault rifle, which appeared not to be operational but could still have been used as a threat, she said.

Vehicles seized included a $30,000 quad bike and a Mercedes-Benz Vito minivan.

Investigators also found documents including 19 blank forms which appeared to be paperwork relating to Covid-19 tests.

Officials said the crime clan was suspected of fraudulently drawing social security benefits in Germany.

"They tried to pretend that they were almost penniless. I think what we've found today proves the opposite," claimed Ms Schultz.

"This family succeeded, with a lot of criminal energy, in fraudulently drawing more than $487,000 – money that you and I pay into social security to help those who are genuinely in need in our society," she claimed.

The raids follow a pattern of regular operations involving hundreds of officers to harass and target the gangs.

The leader of the clan, Berlin’s self-styled "Godfather" Mahmoud Al Zein, left Germany in January under sustained pressure from authorities seeking to crack down on Middle East-dominated gangs in the country.

He left for Turkey to avoid enforced deportation by Germany’s immigration authorities, but experts claimed the criminal empire he left behind remained largely intact.

Authorities were finally able to deport him after unravelling his complex past and discovering he was Turkish and not Lebanese, as he had claimed.

Mahmoud Al Zein pictured in 2018 after attending a funeral in Berlin. Getty Images
Mahmoud Al Zein pictured in 2018 after attending a funeral in Berlin. Getty Images

Mr Al Zein had said he was born in Beirut and travelled to Germany in 1982. Known as "The Fat Man" by investigators, he successfully avoided several deportation attempts as he built his criminal empire, steeped in violence and based on cultural and ethnic loyalties.

Mr Al Zein considered himself above the law and wrote a book that made no secret of his significance in the German underworld: The Godfather of Berlin: My Way, My Family, My Rules.

Andreas Geisel, of Berlin’s Interior Ministry, said in January that the departure of Mr Al Zein was a milestone in the country’s efforts to tackle the gangs.

“It is only one person but it is a special person,” he said. “It shows our determination – this is a signal.

“We are still at the beginning, but have now found our running rhythm … and we are determined to enforce this.”

Updated: June 8, 2021 08:45 PM

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