A massive international organised crime ring has been broken up in a joint operation between the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and the German Criminal Bureau (Landeskriminalamt) of Hamburg. The disrupted criminal network provided financial services to various criminal organisations mainly linked to drug trafficking.
During an action day in May 2022, law enforcement conducted 50 house searches across Spain and the German city of Hamburg, leading to the arrest of 44 persons of Chinese, Spanish, Moroccan and German nationality. The action day also saw authorities issue 19 international arrest warrants and confiscate more than EUR 4 million in cash, jewellery, and 23 luxury vehicles. Europol coordinated the collaboration between the countries and deployed three specialists on the spot during the action day.
Clandestine banking system with large amounts of cash
The modus operandi used by the criminal network consisted in moving large amounts of cash via a sophisticated underground banking system. Organised crime groups could make payments, receive funds and even have their proceeds laundered by this internationally structured financial network.
Individuals involved in the network picked up physical cash directly from criminal organisations. These large amounts of cash were transported in vehicles equipped with hidden compartments and fed into a common cash pool, which was dispersed across various international locations. Other criminal organisations could use these funds to finance their criminal activities or to provide cross-border payments.
Hundreds of kilos of drugs seized
The illicit financing system was largely based on money generated in the illegal drug trade, with one part of the organisation sending up to 200 kilos of hashish and cannabis a week from Spain to other parts of Europe. On the action day earlier this year, law enforcement seized 98 kilograms of cannabis – with an additional 123 kilograms seized a few days later – contributing to a total of 650 kilograms connected to this case. Furthermore, 51 kilograms of hashish were confiscated during the action.
Europol’s European Financial and Economic Centre has been providing operational expertise, as well as analytical and operational support, to the involved authorities since September 2021. This support contributed to the confirmation of links with other investigations and facilitated international cooperation between the involved law enforcement authorities.
This investigation was carried out within the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT). More specifically, it falls under the operational action plan “Criminal Finances, Money Laundering and Asset Recovery” which aims to combat and disrupt criminal networks and criminal individuals who are involved in criminal finances and money laundering.