A joint investigation supported by Europol has led to the arrest of 20 suspected money launderers and drug traffickers.

The operation was led by the Spanish Guardia Civil, with support from the Italian Central Directorate for Anti-Drugs Services (Direzione Centrale Servizi Antidroga), and resulted in the seizure of more than EUR 5.5 million in criminal assets and over 2 tons of drugs. Based in the South of Spain, the criminal network was composed of Albanian, Italian, Spanish, and Moroccan nationals, and was led by Italian nationals who evaded capture using forged identity documents.

Results of the operation include:

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  • 6 houses were searched in Seville, Spain 
  • 20 suspects arrested
  • assets seized worth an estimated EUR 5.5 million
  • 2 luxury watches and EUR 16 545 in cash seized
  • 2 500 kilograms of hashish and 45.6 kilograms of marijuana seized
  • criminal infrastructure seized including lorries, a boat, tools for marijuana cultivation and hashish production, and 34 mobile phones 
  • large marijuana plantation and drug lab discovered
  • forged travel and identification documents seized

Criminals relied on false identities

As the Italian leaders of the criminal network were subjects of European Arrest Orders, they used falsified documents to veil their identities. Residing in towns between Seville and Malaga, they attempted to avoid detection by taking various security measures and by frequently changing their addresses. 

The criminal network used a variety of money laundering methods to obfuscate its drug trafficking proceeds. These included the channeling of money – through business bank accounts using fake invoices, loans, or other debts – among a network of companies involved in the transport of drugs. Other methods used were investments in luxury real estate, rentals, luxury goods, and vehicles, as well as cash payments. 

Drug lab and marijuana plantation

Investigations, in this case, were kicked off in October 2021, when a hashish shipment was found hidden in a lorry transporting pallets of onions. Law enforcement arrested the two drivers and seized 468 kilograms of hashish. This was followed by another seizure of 194 kilograms of hashish and 30 kilograms of marijuana in May 2022. In the same month, a boat chartered by the criminal organization was intercepted by law enforcement on the open sea, resulting in the arrest of its three occupants, as well as the seizure of 1 800 kilograms of hashish and the vessel itself.

The interception of this large shipment from Morocco shows that it has become increasingly difficult for criminals to import drugs via the sea. To circumvent this issue, the organization built a laboratory for hashish production and set up a large marijuana plantation in southern Spain. These were discovered in the course of the operation, which involved more than 150 law enforcement officials. Europol provided operational expertise as well as analytical and operational support from the very beginning of the investigation. Furthermore, a Europol specialist was deployed on location in Spain during the main action day.