Authorities in Italy and Spain arrested 33 suspects in a coordinated action against a globally active money laundering criminal network. The alleged perpetrators, who are of Italian, Albanian, Colombian, Moroccan, and Syrian nationality, had built up an international network of companies to launder dirty money. As a so-called “money laundering network controller”, the criminal network offered a professional criminal service to veil the origin of proceeds generated by illegal drug trafficking from South America.
With the support of Europol and Eurojust, money-laundering specialists from the Italian Guardia di Finanza uncovered a network of electronics companies located around the globe and seized EUR 18.5 million in assets. The intricate structure used companies in countries such as China, Türkiye, and the United States of America, amongst others. This complex web of companies allowed organised crime to disguise the nature, source, location, ownership, control, origin and/or destination of illegally acquired funds and to avoid their detection.
Trade-based money laundering
In order to launder drug profits generated in Europe, the arrested criminals offered a service of trade-based money laundering known as the “Black Market Pesos Exchange”. This process reduces the risk of losing money through seizures and allows for faster access to the funds. The drug producers would provide drugs to the Italian buyers as a form of credit. The profits generated from the sale of the drugs in Europe were then picked up by brokers, introduced into companies, and used for ordering goods such as mobile phones from China, to state just one example. These goods were then shipped to the United States and further transported to Colombia, where they were offered on the market. Upon being sold, the cartels such as the Grupo Armado Organizado received the cash and thus their veiled payment for the drugs provided to European sellers.
Coordinated international police effort
Based on international law enforcement cooperation between the Italian Guardia di Finanza and the Spanish Policía Nacional, supported by Europol and Eurojust, the criminal network’s modus operandi could be unravelled. In Italy alone, EUR 18.5 million could be traced back as money laundered for organised crime groups.
On the action day, Europol deployed a money-laundering specialist with a mobile office at the coordination centre hosted by Eurojust. Europol had been supporting the case since May 2020, providing intelligence, expertise and operational analysis, as well as financial support for operational meetings.