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Dozens Arrested in European Money Laundering Crackdown

Author: Nicola Sharp  14 June 2023
2 min read

With suspects from various countries arrested in a multinational law enforcement operation, Nicola Sharp of financial crime specialists Rahman Ravelli outlines the issues involved in managing a multijurisdictional investigation.

A total of 33 suspects were arrested in Italy and Spain in a coordinated action against what the authorities called a globally active money laundering criminal network.

The alleged perpetrators, who are Italian, Albanian, Colombian, Moroccan and Syrian, are accused of building up an international network of companies to launder money generated by illegal drug trafficking from South America.

With the support of the European Union (EU) law enforcement agency Europol and Eurojust, the EU judicial cooperation agency, money laundering specialists from the Italian Guardia di Finanza uncovered a network of electronics companies located around the world and seized assets worth 18.5 million euros. The network used companies in countries including China, Türkiye and the United States to enable organised crime to disguise the nature and ownership of their proceeds of crime.

Those arrested are accused of running a service known as the “Black Market Pesos Exchange”. This involved the drug producers providing drugs to Italian buyers as a form of credit. The profits generated from the sale of the drugs in Europe were then used by brokers to order goods, such as mobile phones from China, which were then shipped to the US and on to Colombia, where they were offered for sale. The money generated from the sales was then received by the drugs cartels as disguised payment for the drugs they had originally provided.

The day of the arrests saw Europol use a money laundering specialist with a mobile office at the coordination centre hosted by Eurojust. Europol had provided the investigation with intelligence, expertise, operational analysis and financial support for three years prior to the arrests.

The time spent on the investigation and the resources and coordination involved reflect the growing tendency for sustained, cooperative working between law enforcement agencies in various countries. This is often in response to the cross-border nature of the wrongdoing that is suspected - which often involves careful coordination itself.

Any investigation that crosses borders, involves various different agencies and presents geographical challenges has to be managed carefully, with all involved being fully aware of each other’s roles. Similarly, those who wish to contest allegations made against them have to ensure that they are represented by those capable of managing and responding to the challenges posed by such an investigation. In certain circumstances, this can mean identifying both when to negotiate with the authorities and the best way to do this.

Those who investigate, make the arrests and bring charges will have the initiative in the early stages of a cross-border investigation. But both sides have to examine all the evidence, assess whether any more may be available, devise the most appropriate course of action and prioritise the matters that have to be addressed.

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Nicola Sharp


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Nicola is known for her fraud, civil recovery, arbitration and business crime expertise, her experience of leading the largest financial disputes and multinational investigations and her skills in devising preventative measures and conducting internal investigations for corporates.

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