On 21 January 2019, some 300 hundred officers from the Gendarmerie Nationale (French Gendarmerie) and the Guardia di Finanza (Italian Finance Corps) targeted suspects across both countries believed to be part of an organised crime group behind a large-scale international money-laundering scheme. The criminal cash flows are estimated at €5 to €7 million per month.
The coordinated raids took place simultaneously in Paris, Ivry-sur-Seine, Bagnolet, Montpellier, Marseille, Fréjus, Grenoble and Orvault on the French side, and Florence, Arrezzo, Brescia and Rome on the Italian one.
As a result, 19 suspects were arrested and some €550 000 in cash seized, alongside several luxury watches and vehicles. Authorities in Algeria seized gold with a value of almost €1 million.
The sting follows a two-year complex investigation looking into the activities of this criminal network believed to be very prolific. Money originating mainly from drug trafficking and tax evasion was collected by couriers in different cities in France, before being laundered via two distinct schemes – via the Hawala system, allowing the transfer of money without any physical transportation of cash – and via gold laundering, whereby part of the cash money collected was sent to Italy to buy gold from unscrupulous business intermediaries. The precious metal was then transported back to France and Spain in order to be exported by sea to Algeria, where the masterminds behind this scheme were based.
Europol supported the investigation from the outset by facilitating the exchange of information. On the action day, two Europol experts were deployed on-the-spot in France and Italy to allow for the real-time exchange of information and for cross-checks of the data gathered in the course of the action against Europol’s databases.