National Police agents, in a joint operation with Customs Surveillance officials from the Tax Agency, have dismantled a criminal organization dedicated to importing and selling counterfeit products and have seized almost 250,000 items. The agents have arrested 39 people in Madrid (14), Seville (4), Girona (15), Malaga (3) and Tenerife (3), and have carried out 13 simultaneous house searches and 22 inspections in warehouses and establishments open to the public in different points of the Spanish geography. The organization constantly modified its modus operandi as well as the methods of payment, the routes of entry of the merchandise and distribution of the goods, in order to avoid being detected.
The investigation began when the agents became aware of the existence of a hierarchical criminal organization, made up of Senegalese citizens, based in our country and perfectly structured. This organization was allegedly dedicated to the import and sale of counterfeit products, and masked the illegal origin of the profits in order to integrate them into the legal economic and financial systems both in Spain and in third countries.
The counterfeits, sometimes, were carried out through the own creation or import of the product -clothing, footwear, jewelry, or leather goods-. On other occasions, they consisted of joining the article itself with the distinctive and unmistakable label, adhesive or serigraphy of certain brands, thus violating the industrial property rights of registered trademarks.
Pyramid structure, dynamic and with a clear distribution of executive tasks
With the progress of the investigations, the agents confirmed that those investigated had been operating since at least 2016. On the other hand, they showed that the organization had a pyramidal, dynamic structure -since it adapted to the circumstances of the moment- and with a clear and specific distribution of executive tasks among its members.
At the top of the framework was a woman who exercised leadership and management functions. She traveled, together with third parties, continuously and repeatedly to the supplying countries to import the fake products and, in turn, she was in charge of receiving most of the economic benefits.
Once the articles entered our country, they were distributed throughout the Spanish geography, using logistics points or parcel companies for their distribution. This task was carried out by members of the organization called relevant vendors or “mailboxes”. On the other hand, between these and the previous ones -at an intermediate level- was the head of distribution, to whom the leaders would give instructions to make the distribution among the relevant sellers.
Finally -at the last rung of the criminal network- were the base sellers, that is, the final recipients of the counterfeit items. Most of them were African citizens in an irregular situation with limited economic resources, and they were dedicated to directly marketing the products through the so-called top blanket. These people were also in charge of collecting part of the profit obtained to deliver it to third parties who, in turn, accumulated money from various sources to resend it to the higher levels of the organization.
Methods used to remit money to ringleaders and ways to launder illicit proceeds
One of the methods used consisted of making bank transfers or depositing the money directly into the accounts. They did this from multiple points of the Spanish geography, and reintegrated in the localities where the leaders of the organization resided. The other route used was through shipments from parcel companies or postal correspondence, (with a weight of less than one kilogram) to the homes of the heads of the criminal network.
On the other hand, the ways used to launder the illicit profits obtained -which entailed introducing the money back into the legal monetary flow- were mainly two; the creation of businesses with the appearance of being legal, such as restaurants, and the sending of money to their country of origin (Senegal), either through mules or parcels.
Dynamism of the modus operandi to avoid police action
In order to maximize security measures, the organization modified its modus operandi on a regular basis. The routes of entry for counterfeit merchandise changed (if previously it entered the European Union through the United Kingdom, currently the route followed was China-Germany-Spain) as well as the methods of payment and distribution of the goods. This dynamism, in addition to making police action difficult, denotes great sophistication of the criminal network.
The operation has focused on those members who occupy the upper or intermediate levels of the organization. In this sense, the agents detected that the economic capacity of those investigated did not correspond to their declared income or their work history reports, since practically none of them received payroll income and those who did so were not proportional to the income. of money that was recorded in their accounts.
39 detainees, 13 searches and 22 inspections in the provinces of Madrid, Seville, Girona, Malaga and Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Finally, the agents have arrested 39 people for the commission of the alleged crimes of criminal organization, against industrial property, money laundering, smuggling and violation of the Immigration Law; 14 of the arrests have occurred in Madrid, 4 in Seville, 15 in the Girona municipality of Lloret de Mar, 3 in Malaga (one of them in Marbella) and 3 in Tenerife.
In addition, the agents have carried out 13 searches at the homes of the heads and relevant distributors of the organization, as well as 22 inspections in warehouses and establishments open to the public. In Madrid, specifically, they have carried out 6 searches and 7 inspections in the areas of Carabanchel and Lavapiés. The searches (3) and inspections (10) carried out in the province of Gerona have been carried out in Lloret de Mar. On the other hand, in Seville, 2 house searches and 2 inspections have been carried out; in Malaga one registry and two inspections; and, finally, a search in the Tenerife municipality of Arona and an inspection in an establishment that was the nerve center of the organization on the island.
As a result of the searches carried out, the agents have intervened 242,501 effects -among which are football kits, luxury bags, footwear and jewelry- that would violate the industrial property rights of renowned brands, as well as various accessories to adhere to white products and stickers to print on clothing. On the other hand, they have also seized 86,255 euros in cash, numerous electronic devices (mobile phones, tablets and laptops) and a large amount of documentation related to the facts investigated.