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The Rathkeale Rovers is a name given to a group of criminals based in Ireland but operating internationally. They are all members of Ireland's Travelling Community,[1] and use traditional Traveller work such as laying tarmac or home renovation as cover for illegal activities.[2] Their name comes from their links with the town of Rathkeale in Ireland, which has been described as their "base".

The gang's crimes include fraud, money laundering, drug smuggling, and art theft.[3]

The European Union's law enforcement agency, Europol, set up Operation Oakleaf in 2011 at the request of the Garda Síochána (Irish Police), in order to gather intelligence on the group. This led to 30 arrests in eight countries for money laundering, drug trafficking and organised robbery worldwide.[4]

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has also investigated the group with regard to the smuggling of rhino horns. Investigators worked with South African police and Europol.[5]

In October 2013, the New South Wales Fair Trading department issued a warning that the gang was operating on the Australian eastern seaboard.[6]

In November 2013, UK police from 26 forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency arrested 19 people, believed to be members of the Rathkeale Rovers, as part of Operation Elven into a series of museum and auction house break-ins in 2012.[7] 14 men were later convicted for their roles in the thefts. The 14 received prison sentences ranging from 15 months to six years and eight months (the maximum penalty for the charge is seven years). Four of them, all from the same family, were described by the prosecution as "generals" within the Rathkeale Rovers. The gang targeted Chinese antiquities and rhinoceros horns, intending to sell them to the Chinese black market. On 13 April 2012 the gang broke into the Fitzwilliam Museum while it was closed, stealing 18 jade objects valued at between £15m and £40m, none of which have been recovered and with most probably having ended up in China. They targeted Durham University Oriental Museum three times, on one occasion smashing a large hole through an external wall to gain access. Attempted thefts at Norwich Castle Museum and Gorringes auction house in Lewes were thwarted by visitors. The total value of the items taken was between £18m and £57m, according to the police.[8] After the sentencing of the 14, a police spokesman said that there were other members of the Rathkeale Rovers still at large in the UK.[9]


  1. ^ "On holiday with the Rathkeale Rovers". Irish Independent. 9 April 2005. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  2. ^ "The Irish Clan Behind Europe's Rhino-Horn Theft Epidemic". 2 January 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  3. ^ "Traveller crime gang held after European police raids". Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  4. ^ "Traveller crime gang held after European police raids". Irish Independent. 18 Jan 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  5. ^ "Irish Sunday Mirror investigates the Irish Traveller gang who steal and trade in precious rhino horn". Irish Mirror. Dublin. 15 September 2013. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  6. ^ New South Wales Government Office of Fair Trading (December 2011). "Travelling conmen sent packing" (PDF). Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  7. ^ "Nineteen arrested after dawn raids across the country including traveller camp". Daily Mail. 3 November 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  8. ^ Martin Baily, "Criminal gang convicted of stealing antiquities and rhino horn from UK museums", The Art Newspaper, 21 March 2016. [1]
  9. ^ Martin Baily, "‘Rathkeale Rovers’ gang jailed over £57m UK museums thefts", The Art Newspaper, 6 April 2016. [2].