The Hague, 31 May 2023
Judicial and law enforcement authorities in Italy and Spain have carried out a coordinated action against an organised crime group suspected of large-scale money laundering. During a joint action day supported by Eurojust and Europol, thirty-one suspects were arrested in Italy. Another two European Arrest Warrants were executed in Spain, with one person being arrested and a second person notified, as he currently serves a jail term.
The alleged members of the organised crime group built up a global network to launder proceeds from drug trafficking. By using this system, criminals were able to conceal the origin of these illegally acquired funds and avoid their detection. The network was active in several countries worldwide, including China, Türkiye and the United States.
The group made use of a money laundering service known as the ‘Black Market Peros Exchange’, in which payment for drugs of South American origin was processed via an elaborate trading scheme across several countries. Profits from the sale of the drugs in Europe were picked up by brokers and transferred to electronics companies, which in turn ordered specific goods, such as mobile phones. These goods were shipped to the United States before being transported to Colombia, where they were sold. This final step enabled the South American cartels to receive cash as a veiled payment for the drugs they had provided to European markets.
The elaborated scheme was unravelled during an international investigation led by the Italian Public Prosecutor Office of Trento and Guardia di Finanza – Economic and Financial Investigation Unit of Trento, and supported by Eurojust and Europol. In Italy alone, EUR 18.5 million could be traced back as money laundered for organised crime groups.
Eurojust assisted the investigations by organising three coordination meetings. The Italian representative at Eurojust worked in synergy with the Trento Public Prosecutor’s Office, coordinating and linking investigative activities with other European public prosecutors, to obtain data of the crypto chat Sky ECC and EncroChat, used by people under investigation to exchange messages related to cash withdrawals (so-called ‘money pick up’). The action day against the organised crime group was steered in real time from the Agency’s dedicated coordination centre.
Europol supported the case by providing intelligence, expertise and operational analysis, as well as financial support for operational meetings. During the action day, Europol deployed a money laundering specialist to the coordination centre hosted by Eurojust.
The following authorities took part in the investigation:
- Italy: Trento Public Prosecutor’s Office, Guardia di Finanza, Nucleo Polizia Economico-Finanziaria di Trento
- Spain: Policía Nacional