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Europol supports Spain and US in dismantling money-laundering organized crime

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Europol have supported the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and the US Drug Enforcement Administration to dismantle an organized crime group laundering money for major South American cartels. 

The criminal network was involved in debt collection and laundering of money coming from drug trafficking. They also provided so-called hitman services involving contract killings, threats and violence targeted at other criminal groups. The criminal organisation used the network of hitmen to collect payments across Spain from other criminal groups buying drugs from the South American cartels to redistribute them locally. The investigation identified also a number of ‘front men’ acquiring luxurious goods for the lifestyles of the group’s leaders. This was only a small part of a large money-laundering scheme that traded high-end cars and used smurfing techniques to place criminal profits into the financial system.

Results

  • 4 suspects arrested (Colombian, Spanish and Venezuelan nationals)
  • 7 suspects charged with criminal offences
  • 1 company charged with a criminal offence
  • 3 home searches in Spain
  • Seizures of high-end cars, luxury items, firearms and ammunition

Europol facilitated the information exchange and provided analytical support during the whole investigation.

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Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, Europol supports the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organized forms of crime. It also works with many non-EU partner states and international organizations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.

 

EMPACT

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. Money laundering is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.

Europol

Serious and organized crime in the EU: A corrupting influence

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On 12 April, Europol published the European Union (EU) Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment, the EU SOCTA 2021. The SOCTA, published by Europol every four years, presents a detailed analysis of the threat of serious and organised crime facing the EU. The SOCTA is a forward-looking assessment that identifies shifts in the serious and organized crime landscape.

The SOCTA 2021 details the operations of criminal networks in the EU and how their criminal activities and business practices threaten to undermine our societies, economy and institutions, and slowly erode the rule of law. The report provides unprecedented insights into Europe’s criminal underworld based on the analysis of thousands of cases and pieces of intelligence provided to Europol. 

The SOCTA reveals a concerning expansion and evolution of serious and organised crime in the EU. The document warns of the potential long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and how these may create ideal conditions for crime to thrive in the future. The report clearly highlights serious and organised crime as the key internal security challenge currently facing the EU and its Member States.

Launched at the Portuguese Police’s headquarters (Policia Judicária) in Lisbon during the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the SOCTA 2021 is the most comprehensive and in-depth study of serious and organised crime in the EU ever undertaken. 

THE MOST PRESSING INTERNAL SECURITY THREAT TO THE EU

EU citizens enjoy some of the highest levels of prosperity and security in the world. However, the EU still faces serious challenges to its internal security, threatening to undo some of our common achievements and undermine shared European values and ambitions. As the EU is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most significant crises since the end of World War II, criminals seek to exploit this extraordinary situation targeting citizens, businesses, and public institutions alike.

The analysis presented in the SOCTA 2021 highlights key characteristics of serious and organised crime such as the widespread use of corruption, the infiltration and exploitation of legal business structures for all types of criminal activity, and the existence of a parallel underground financial system that allows criminals to move and invest their multi-billion euro profits. 

Serious and organised crime encompasses a diverse range of criminal phenomena ranging from the trade in illegal drugs to crimes such as migrant smuggling and the trafficking in human beings, economic and financial crime and many more.

Key findings of the SOCTA 2021:

  • Serious and organised crime has never posed as high a threat to the EU and its citizens as it does today.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and the potential economic and social fallout expected to follow threaten to create ideal conditions for organised crime to spread and take hold in the EU and beyond. Once more confirmed by the pandemic, a key characteristic of criminal networks is their agility in adapting to and capitalising on changes in the environment in which they operate. Obstacles become criminal opportunities.
  • Like a business environment, the core of a criminal network is composed of managerial layers and field operators. This core is surrounded by a range of actors linked to the crime infrastructure providing support services.
  • With nearly 40 percent of the criminal networks active in drugs trafficking, the production and trafficking of drugs remains the largest criminal business in the EU. 
  • The trafficking and exploitation of human beings, migrant smuggling, online and offline frauds and property crime pose significant threats to EU citizens. 
  • Criminals employ corruption. Almost 60% of the criminal networks reported engage in corruption.
  • Criminals make and launder billions of euros annually. The scale and complexity of money laundering activities in the EU have previously been underestimated. Professional money launderers have established a parallel underground financial system and use any means to infiltrate and undermine Europe’s economies and societies. 
  • Legal business structures are used to facilitate virtually all types of criminal activity with an impact on the EU. More than 80% of the criminal networks active in the EU use legal business structures for their criminal activities. 
  • The use of violence by criminals involved in serious and organised crime in the EU appears to have increased in terms of the frequency of use and its severity. The threat from violent incidents has been augmented by the frequent use of firearms or explosives in public spaces.
  • Criminals are digital natives. Virtually all criminal activities now feature some online component and many crimes have fully migrated online. Criminals exploit encrypted communications to network among each other, use social media and instant messaging services to reach a larger audience to advertise illegal goods, or spread disinformation. 

Portugal’s Minister for Justice, Francisca Van Dunem: "The strengthening of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice requires us all to build a Europe where citizens feel safe, free and protected, a Europe that promotes justice for all, ensuring respect for human rights and protecting victims of crime. Cooperation and information sharing are essential to combat serious and organised crime and terrorism and to tackle the threat the EU is confronted with. Therefore, at a time of transition to the new EMPACT cycle 2022-2025, SOCTA 2021 is of particular relevance in identifying priorities for the operational response to these phenomena".

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle: "With the launch of the SOCTA 2021, Europol has harnessed its position as the nerve centre of the EU’s internal security architecture with its platforms, databases, and services connecting law enforcement authorities across the EU and beyond. The intelligence picture and assessment presented in the SOCTA 2021 is a stark reminder of the dynamic and adaptable adversary we face in serious and organised crime in the EU.”

Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs: “The 2021 SOCTA report clearly shows that organised crime is a truly transnational threat to our societies. 70% of criminal groups are active in more than three Member States. The complexity of the modern criminal business models was exposed in 2020 when French and Dutch authorities supported by Europol and Eurojust dismantled EncroChat; an encrypted phone network used by criminal networks. Organised crime groups are professional and highly adaptable as shown during the COVID-19 pandemic. We must support law enforcement to keep up, offline and online, to follow the digital trail of criminals.”

Minister of Internal Affairs, Eduardo Cabrita: “The EU's Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA 2021), produced by Europol, constitutes an important instrument for affirming the European police partnership. It allows police action to go from pursuing criminal facts and minimising their impact, to anticipating trends in the criminal landscape. By placing intelligence at the service of security, we enable police to be more pro-active and efficient in tackling crime.”

The SOCTA 2021 assists decision-makers in the prioritisation of serious and organised crime threats. It is a product of close cooperation between Europol, EU Member States law enforcement authorities, third parties such as EU agencies, international organisations, and countries outside the EU with working arrangements with Europol. These crucial stakeholders’ involvement is also reflected in the SOCTA’s role as the cornerstone of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) in the EU. Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, Europol supports the 27 EU Member States in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime, and other serious and organized crime forms. Europol also works with many non-EU partner states and international organisations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.

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Europol

Europol - Three arrested in Spain for terrorist financing

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) supported by Europol, arrested three individuals in Madrid and Santa Cruz de Tenerife for their suspected involvement in the facilitation of terrorist financing.

The suspects are believed to have used a non-governmental organisation to finance the activities of Al-Qaeda affiliated militants. The network diverted funds raised in good faith by religious associations, under the cover of using them as humanitarian aid for Syrian orphans. In addition to financing the activities of terrorist fighters, part of the funds were used to cover the costs of a school for orphaned children, which is involved in training future terrorist fighters. The school focused on radicalising, providing combat training and encouraging orphans to continue the terrorist activities of their parents killed in combat.

As part of the operational action, officers carried out four searches and seized cash, valuables, documents and technical devices which are being analysed by investigators.

Europol was involved in the case since its early stages, facilitating the information exchange and providing operational analysis support. Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) will also support the analysis of the digital evidence seized during the action day.    

Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, Europol supports the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime, and other serious and organized crime forms. Europol also works with many non-EU partner states and international organizations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.

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Crime

Spanish Police seize first ever narco-submarine made in Europe

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), in close co-operation with Europol and law enforcement from five other countries, have seized in the city of Málaga the first ever half-submersible vessel being built on European territory. Similar vessels captured in the past have always been of Latin American manufacture. 

The seizure was made in the framework of Operation FERRO, a high-level law enforcement operation against an organized crime group involved in large-scale drugs trafficking. 

Over 300 police officers carried out this operation in Spain, supported by the National Police of Colombia (Policía Nacional de Colombia), the Dutch National Police (Politie), the Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária), the UK National Crime Agency and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with international activity coordinated by Europol. 

Results of Operation FERRO

  • 47 house searches carried out in the Spanish cities of Tarragona (6), Barcelona (11), Gerona (3), Málaga (11), Castellón (4), Valencia (2), Murcia (7), Cádiz (1), Granada (1) and Badajoz (1);
  • 52 individuals arrested;
  • 2 boats seized: one semi-submersible vessel in Málaga and one speedboat worth over €300 000 in the province of Murcia;
  • Over 3 tonnes of cocaine seized, alongside 700 kilos of hashish and over €100 000 in cash. 

    Operation FERRO was carried out in several phases

Phase one: Investigators identified an organised crime group, composed of Spanish, Colombian and Dominican nationals, involved in large-scale trafficking of cocaine, hashish and marijuana. The criminals were operating from Spain, specifically Cataluña.  Between April to December 2020, a number of important cocaine seizures linked to this criminal group were made in Colombia.  A total of 2 900 kilos of cocaine were seized. 

Phase two: In November 2020, police officers in Spain arrested the leader of this criminal network in Tarragona, alongside 13 of his accomplices.

Phase three: In February of this year, another branch of this organised crime group was targeted. Four individuals were arrested in Tarragona and a shipment of 583 kilos of hashish on its way to France and Italy seized. House searches were also carried out in Málaga, on the occasion of which the half-submersible vessel was found in a warehouse. The boat – the first ever of its kind seized on European soil, was still in construction when it was found. The craft was 9 meters long and could have been able to transport up to 2 tonnes of drugs.  

Phase four: One of the main targets was arrested in February at the El Prat airport in Barcelona as he was trying to flee to the Netherlands. As a result of this arrest, a warehouse was searched Barcelona which led to the seizure of 300 kilos of cocaine. 

Phase five: A clandestine drug laboratory was discovered in Barcelona next to an indoor cannabis plantation with over 1 150 plants. A 15-meter long speedboat belonging to this criminal network and loaded with 7 000 litres of gasoline was also seized in the region of Murcia. 

Phase six: At the end of February, the remaining members of the criminal network were arrested. Some 6 000 litres of drug precursors were also seized, destined for a clandestine laboratory in Murcia. 

Europol’s support

Europol’s EU Drugs Unit co-ordinated the intense international activity from the onset of this Investigation. Its team of specialists facilitated the exchange of information between the different countries involved and analysed the operational data to identify the main targets. 

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