A SPANISH police operation against a massive international money laundering operation based on the Costa Blanca and in Barcelona has led to five arrests and 15 people being charged.
The criminal organisation, operating both in Germany and Spain, used a network of food establishments to conceal their activities, fronting as kebab meat suppliers.
Guardia Civil investigations began in summer 2015 when police agents from the Barcelona-El Prat airport discovered that money was a being sent from Spain to Germany on a weekly basis.
Running its activities from Barcelona and Alicante, the criminal organisation was transferring large sums of money between the two countries, ranging from €90 000 to €300 000.
The group justified the transfers to the airport authorities as payments of Spanish companies to a German company for kebab meat supply.
But the investigation revealed that the Spanish companies did not even run real commercial activities.
Police found that the group, operating since 2012, had built up a network of front companies involved in money laundering.
The Spanish authorities estimate that around €36 million has been transferred and laundered by the criminal network.
Europol has supported the investigation since 2017 by providing analytical and operational support, carrying out data analysis and cross match reporting.
As a result of the operation the Spanish Guardia Civil has blocked 36 bank accounts and 35 credit cards and seized five properties in the province of Alicante worth approximately €470,000.
“This investigation shows once again that criminal business is still largely done in cash,” Simon Riondet, Head of Financial Intelligence at Europol, explained.
“Professional money laundering syndicates offer cash courier and compensation laundering services for illicit proceeds. Very often networks of front and shell companies are established in order to facilitate the movement of the money and to provide justification for the proceeds.
“These activities are further enabled by the lack of cash payment restrictions in some EU countries which allow justifying large cash amounts as payments for trade activities.
“The continued law enforcement seizures of bulk large denomination banknotes and the prevailing trade-based money laundering schemes reinforce the need to discontinue the production and circulation of €500 and €200 euro banknotes and set an EU-wide framework for restricting or setting a common limit for cash payments.”