27 arrested in Spain for laundering over EUR 65 million drug profits

 Criminal network composed of Albanian and Chinese nationals was involved in the production, trafficking and laundering of criminal assets

The Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), supported by Europol, dismantled a criminal network involved in drug trafficking and laundering large sums of criminal profits. The investigation was initiated in 2021 based on a Europol intelligence report, which led to the identification of a drug trafficking organisation. The criminal group was led by Albanian nationals and was active in the production and trafficking of marijuana, but also organised large-scale money laundering activities for drug trafficking organisations. They used the so-called hawala system of underground banking, while working closely with Chinese nationals. 

Law enforcement actions on 17 July 2023 led to:

- 27 arrests throughout Spain in Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Seville and Valencia;

- Seizures of luxury watches and jewellery valued at more than EUR 400 000;

- Seizures of high-end cars, phones, encrypted mobile phones and EUR 615 000 in cash. 

EUR 65 million in money laundering turnover

Investigators estimate that the criminal network laundered over EUR 65 million from drug trafficking activities in under one year, between May 2020 and March 2021 alone. The Chinese nationals played a major role in these criminal activities by laundering high quantities of criminal assets through legal businesses. These large sums of money would first go through these legal structures and were then compensated elsewhere. Finally, the criminal assets would reach the country of origin and were then invested there. 

The “hawaladars”, of Albanian origin, operated as an illegal banking entity, carried out the transfers and concealed large sums of money from the sale of drugs. This served for the financing of new criminal operations. Two Albanian nationals headed the criminal network, one was the leader while the other took the role of lieutenant and accountant. Two Chinese nationals worked for them as coordinators by managing a large portfolio of numerous Asian establishments spread throughout Spain, which serviced money laundering schemes for drug trafficking profits. 

Europol’s role

Europol facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical support. During the action day, Europol deployed two experts to Spain to cross-check operational information in real time and support investigators on the ground with technical and asset-recovery expertise.  

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