A joint investigation, coordinated by Spain and involving law enforcement authorities from Colombia, France, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom and supported by Europol, led to the dismantling of the largest organised crime group in the Spanish Levante area, involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.
Operation Beautiful started in 2018 with an investigation into drug trafficking and money laundering. International cooperation and information exchange, which Europol made possible, between the seven countries involved contributed to the success of this complex investigation.
More than €1 million found in a panic room at the ringleader’s house
On 26 September, after extensive planning, the final stage of the operation took place. On the action day in Spain, more than 200 police officers carried out 13 house searches and arrested 42 individuals. The whole investigation led to the arrests of 81 individuals and various seizures including 4 000kg of cocaine, €2 million in cash, three firearms, jewellery, precious gems, luxury watches, 42 vehicles and a 25-metre-long yacht. Properties worth €20 million and 800 bank accounts were frozen. At present, those arrested are charged with laundering over €7 million.
A well-structured and violent group
The criminal group used different methods of transportation including cargo in boats, lorries, trailers and cars with hidden compartments and a clandestine laboratory. The criminal network had different highly structured groups, specialised in various activities; such as a security team in charge of counter-surveillance, debt collections, extortion and vuelcos (violent robberies between organised crime groups while impersonating police officers). The group was particularly violent and recently lost a member, murdered in the city of El Campello, Spain. The multiple arrests and seizures during the long investigation made the members bolder and more reckless. This led to the detection of money movements between the leaders of the organisation.
Europol supported the case through operational coordination, analytical support and funding operational meetings. Europol also deployed an analyst to Spain to support the on-the-spot activities by performing real-time crosschecks of operational information against Europol’s databases.
In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organised crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 - 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU Member States, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. Drug trafficking is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.