Underground drug-money bank laundering EUR 180 million liquidated by law enforcement agency Europol
Europol supported a joint investigation between the Belgian Federal Judicial Police Leuven (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie Leuven) and the Spanish Guardia Civil, leading to the disruption of a large-scale money laundering and underground banking system. At least EUR 180 million in illicit profits generated by cocaine trafficking had been laundered by the criminal network, which consisted of Moroccan, Spanish, and Belgian nationals. The criminal network was active in Belgium and branched out to the Netherlands, Spain, South America and Dubai. Its members had set up a complex and professional system to launder illicit profits generated by importing cocaine via ports and airports into the EU.
During a coordinated action day in March 2023, law enforcement arrested five suspects in Belgium, another suspect in Spain, and seized various criminal assets. The criminal network had relied on investments in cryptocurrencies and the distribution of cash via an underground banking system. A main money laundering method was via investment in luxurious real estate projects in the EU, as well in several Moroccan cities.
Results of the operation include:
1 person arrested in Belgium
1 person arrested in Spain
EUR 1.2 million in cryptocurrencies seized
3 real estate properties seized
EUR 50 000 in cash, one luxury car, several luxury watches and jewellery seized
23 phones, three safe boxes, and a money counting machine seized
Cross-border collaboration of police forces
Law enforcement started to look into the case in October 2021, after analysing decrypted SKY ECC messages indicating the presence of a large-scale criminal network importing cocaine and laundering illicit profits. The investigation revealed large amounts of cocaine trafficked from various South American ports to several maritime ports and airports in Europe. By using contact persons at these various entry points, the organisation succeeded in importing several tonnes of cocaine and selling it on for a massive profit. Using a professional and flexible approach, involving methods such as the use of cover companies, the criminals managed to evade the authorities until the decryption of the SKY ECC network.
Europol has been providing analytical and operational support since March 2022, by confirming links with other countries and identifying new connections. An Operational Task Force was set up to tackle criminal organisations working as underground banks, thus financing criminal activities and laundering illegal profits of other criminal organisations. On the action day, a Joint Coordination Centre was established in Leuven (Belgium), where members of Europol and the Spanish Guardia Civil were deployed. Specifically, Europol provided support on location by deploying a money-laundering specialist, an analyst and a cryptocurrency specialist.
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