Europol has supported Spain in dismantling a criminal organisation providing large-scale crypto money laundering services to other criminal organisations.
The criminals carried out several money laundering schemes involving the transfer from fiat currency to virtual assets to hide the illegal origin of the proceeds. Some of the identified modi operandi used crypto ATMs and smurfing, a criminal method used to split illicit proceeds into smaller sums and placing these small amounts into the financial system to avoid suspicious transaction reporting.
- The Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) arrested eight people and charged eight more for involvement in the crypto money laundering ring.
- Seven houses were searched, including a money exchange office and an indoor cannabis cultivation plant.
- Eleven vehicles, €16 800, close to 200 cannabis plants, two crypto ATMs, computers, devices, jewels and relevant documents were seized.
- Spanish authorities froze four ‘cold wallets’ and 20 ‘hot wallets’, to which €9 million was transferred, as well as several bank accounts.
Some of the identified modi operandi were:
- The organisation managed a cryptocurrency exchange business, including two crypto ATMs to deposit criminal cash and transform it into cryptocurrency for other criminal groups;
- Cash pick-ups carried out by cash-carriers followed by smurfing techniques to deposit the criminal cash in several bank accounts controlled by the organisation. The funds were moved through several accounts in the process of layering. Afterwards, the money was exchanged into cryptocurrency;
- Large transfers to bank accounts controlled by the organisation coming from corporate entities owned by gangs using their criminal money laundering services. Immediate overseas transfers were then wired to crypto exchange platforms.
The operation was a follow-up of operation Guatuzo also supported by Europol in which 23 people were arrested in summer 2018 in Spain and Colombia.
Europol supported the investigation by facilitating the exchange of information. On the action day, Europol experts were deployed to Spain to allow for real-time exchange of information and cross-checks of the data gathered in the course of the action against Europol’s databases.
In the European Union Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) 2017, Europol stated that an increasing number of individual criminal entrepreneurs offer Crime as a Service (CaaS). The online trade in services enables individual criminals to operate their own criminal business without the need for the infrastructures maintained by ‘traditional’ organised crime groups.
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. Criminal finances and money laundering is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.