With the support of Europol and Eurojust, the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) and Tax Agency (Agencia Tributaria) have dismantled an organised crime group believed to be running Europe’s biggest ‘narco-bank’.
Composed mainly of Syrian nationals, the criminal network running this ‘bank’ provided financial services to criminal organisations linked to drug trafficking in more than twenty countries. Active since 2020, this criminal gang is believed to have laundered over EUR 300 million per year.
On 27 September, over 200 law enforcement officers raided a total of 21 locations in the Spanish provinces of Málaga and Toledo, resulting in 32 arrests and the seizure of almost EUR 3 million of criminal assets.
Details of the seizures:
- EUR 428 205 in cash
- 19 cryptocurrency accounts worth EUR 1.5 million
- 11 luxury vehicles
- 70 kilos of hashish, 1.2 tonnes of marijuana and a plantation with 995 marijuana plants
- These seizures follow that of EUR 2.9 million in cash made over the course of the investigation.
Organised crime groups could make payments, receive funds and even have their proceeds laundered by this internationally structured financial network.
The Spanish city of Fuenlabrada appeared to be the centre of the underground bank. The criminals ran their money laundering activities from a local restaurant where their customers would come to deposit or collect bulk cash.
The hawala informal money transfer system was the main money laundering typology used to avoid law enforcement detection.
Europol’s support was central in the development of the Spanish investigation. Since May 2020, Europol has been providing continuous intelligence development and analysis to map out the international activity of this criminal network. Two experts from its European Financial and Economic Crime Centre were also deployed to Madrid to assist the Spanish investigation with the cross-checking of operational information during the action day.
This investigation was financially supported by the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).