In a major crackdown on international money laundering, Italian and Spanish authorities have arrested 33 individuals involved in a sophisticated criminal network.

The arrests were made as part of a joint operation between the Italian Guardia di Finanza and the Spanish Policía Nacional, with support from Europol and Eurojust. The network, comprised of individuals from Italy, Albania, Colombia, Morocco, and Syria, operated a global system of companies to launder proceeds from illegal drug trafficking.

The investigation, led by the Italian authorities, uncovered an intricate web of electronics companies spread across different countries, including China, Turkey, and the United States. The network utilized these companies to disguise the origin, ownership, and destination of illicit funds, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to track and detect their criminal activities. Through this complex trade-based money laundering scheme, known as the “Black Market Pesos Exchange,” the criminals facilitated the transfer of drug profits generated in Europe.

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Under this scheme, drug producers would provide drugs to Italian buyers on credit. The proceeds from the sale of these drugs in Europe were then used to purchase goods, such as mobile phones, from countries like China. These goods were subsequently transported to the United States and Colombia, where they were sold on the market. The cartels involved in the drug trade would receive the cash, thus completing the illicit payment cycle.

The coordinated effort by international law enforcement agencies, including Europol and Eurojust, was crucial in dismantling the criminal network. Europol, which had been involved in the case since May 2020, provided intelligence, expertise, operational analysis, and financial support for operational meetings. On the day of the arrests, Europol deployed a money-laundering specialist with a mobile office at the coordination center hosted by Eurojust.

The operation resulted in the seizure of EUR 18.5 million in assets linked to the money laundering network. This significant blow to organized crime demonstrates the effectiveness of cross-border collaboration in combating global financial crimes. In Italy alone, authorities were able to trace back millions of euros laundered for organized crime groups.