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‘Police officers thought extortion was just free trade of alcohol’

outgoing Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou

The ministry of justice and police decided to launch a campaign against organised crime this week because links between the sale of alcoholic drinks and protection rackets over the sale of alcoholic drinks have resurfaced, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said in an interview with Politis on Sunday.

He said plans to fight organised crime were started in the second half of 2017.

The police, Nicolaou said, have mapped organised crime across the island and have received tips from the public about groups’ activities and who their members and leaders are. The aim, he told Politis, is to re-evaluate old information and connect it with recent crimes.

“When I took over the ministry the first thing I did was study how police dealt with organised crime,” Nicolaou said.

“I was surprised by how limited it was”.

He said the worst period for Cyprus in terms of organised crime was between 2009 and 2012 when the police only mounted 1,000 operations against it involving protection rackets, drugs and illegal betting shops. “At that time, certain leading police figures believed the sale of alcoholic drinks through blackmail and threats was free trade,” the minister said.

Between September 2013 and September 2016, more than 7,000 operations have been staged by the police against activities of the night, he said. The minister said the effect of this was to largely stamp out organised crime.

Particular success, the minister said, has been seen in stopping the operation of illegal betting shops and casinos.

The main aim of the police now, he said, is to stop the illegal sale of drugs.

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