One of Europe’s biggest money launderers arrested in Spain

One of Europe’s biggest money launderers was arrested on 12 September in Malaga, Spain, as a result of an international law enforcement operation led by the Spanish Guardia Civil. Two of his associates were also arrested in Spain, with 11 property searches being carried out in Spain and the United Kingdom. 

Money launderer arrested in SpainThe main suspect was considered a high-value target by Europol for his involvement in a number of high-profile criminal cases throughout Europe. Earlier in April of this year, this person and his company were designated by the US Department of the Treasury for providing support to the Kinahan clan. 

His arrest follows a complex investigation led by the Spanish Guardia Civil, who worked together on this case with the British National Crime Agency (NCA), the Dutch National Police (Politie) and the Irish Garda (An Garda Síochána), with international activity coordinated by Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre.

More than EUR 200 million laundered 

Based in Spain, the main suspect and his associates were in charge of collecting large amounts of cash from criminal organisations which they would then ‘deliver’ to other criminal organisations in other countries.

The money was transferred using the hawala underground banking system, an informal  method of transferring money without any physical money actually moving.  During the course of the investigation (1.5 years), it is believed that the suspects have laundered over EUR 200 million using this method. The scope of activity of this criminal organisation is worldwide. 

Shell companies and premium brands  

The main members of the organisation in Spain had created a brand of vodka promoted in nightclubs and restaurants in the Costa del Sol to disguise the source of their earnings. 

In a similar fashion, they had founded a company in the United Kingdom, dependent on another company based in Gibraltar, in order to hide the true identity of the administrators of the companies that were being used to launder the illegal profits using the hawala system. 

One of the suspects arrested ran a car dealership and was in charge of providing vehicles to the criminal organisation in which he had built concealed compartments to transport the large amounts of cash undetected. 

Europol coordination 

The investigation was initiated by the Spanish Guardia Civil at the beginning of 2021 after a series of actions which led to the seizure of 200 kilos of cocaine and EUR 500 000 in cash in vehicles equipped with hidden compartments and owned by the gang. 

The case was rapidly brought to Europol due to its international nature. Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre has since been providing analytical and operational support, contributing to confirming links with other countries and identifying new connections to extend the operation. 

A number of operational meetings were organised by Europol to bring together the national investigators to prepare for the action day. Since then, Europol has been providing continuous intelligence development to support the field investigators. 

On the action day, on-the-spot support was provided by Europol financial specialists and analysts who were deployed to Spain to assist with the investigative measures. 

This investigation was carried out with the financial support of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).