Thirteen people have been arrested and 56 firearms and 80k of heroin recovered as part of a joint investigation between the National Crime Agency, Bulgarian law enforcement and Merseyside Police.
Two packages destined for delivery to Merseyside, were intercepted which contained 14 firearms, eight silencers and 691 rounds of ammunition.
Nine suspects were arrested in Birkenhead and Wirral, Merseyside, by NCA and Merseyside Police officers on Monday, with three additional firearms and a significant amount of ammunition recovered.
In coordinated strikes, Bulgarian law enforcement arrested four suspects – including a UK national – and seized 39 handguns, 21 silencers, 1,253 rounds of ammunition and 80k of heroin which was intended for the UK.
The firearms included Makarov pistols and Zoraki handguns. The majority of the seized weapons were blank firers converted to be lethal.
The NCA is investigating more than 30 previous importations to the UK.
Paul Risby, NCA Branch Commander, said: “This represents a really significant triumph in our fight against gun trafficking into the UK.
“The NCA and partners in Bulgaria and Merseyside Police have stopped lethal firearms from entering the UK’s criminal market and hugely disrupted an organised crime group.
“One of the NCA’s key objectives is to prevent criminals in the UK accessing firearms.
“They have a catastrophic impact and enable serious and organised crime by helping criminals to violently dominate the communities they operate in.
“We work relentlessly with partners at home and abroad to cut off supply routes and take action against those involved.
“Gun crime in the UK continues to be relatively low compared to mainland Europe.
“However, we know that illegal firearms are used in acts of serious violence and by crime groups to coerce and intimidate.”
Of the UK arrests, there were five men and four women aged 22 to 50.
Suspects were arrested for conspiracy to import firearms. Eight property searches were conducted by joint NCA and Merseyside Police teams. Around £20,000 in cash was found along with cannabis and more than 600 ecstasy tablets.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Reardon of Merseyside Police, said: “Our joint activity has led to the recovery of guns and ammunition being smuggled into the country for use in serious violent crime and people have been arrested in connection with the importation of these weapons. It’s operations like this one that show why it is so important to work together with other agencies to target these individuals and make our streets and communities safer.
“Merseyside Police is relentless in its pursuit of those involved in serious organised crime, and the use of firearms on our streets, and by working with the NCA we have taken out a significant supply of weapons. I would urge anyone who has any information about those involved in serious organised crime, or gun crime, on Merseyside to contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, and we will act on all information received.”