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Five arrests in Hungary for money laundering across three continents

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The Budapest Metropolitan Police (Budapesti Rendőr-főkapitányság), supported by Europol, dismantled a criminal organisation involved in money laundering and perpetrating fraud using administrative documents.

The action day on 9 May led to:

  • 24 house searches in Budapest, in Pest County and in Szabolcs-Szatmár Bereg County
  • 16 suspects apprehended and interrogated
  • 5 arrests (pre-trial custody)  
  • Seizures of funds in 32 countries across Europe, Australia and South America
  • Seizures including: one high-end vehicle, large quantities of electronic equipment, mobile phones and sim cards, data storage devices, payment cards, weapons and ammunitions, jewellery, pledge ticket for a value of about EUR 740 and the equivalent of more than EUR 120 000 cash in different currencies

About €5 million identified as linked to criminal activities 

The investigation uncovered that the members of the criminal network established a number of companies with no meaningful economic activities, and purchased others with the use of strawmen. The suspects opened bank accounts in the name of these companies to be used in a chain within a money laundering scheme. The bank accounts received transfers from other accounts based in different countries; these assets usually originated from invoice fraud or cryptocurrency-related swindling. The sums would then be transferred forward to other accounts to conceal the identity of the owners of these funds. 

Estimated to be active since September 2020, the criminal network is suspected of laundering million euros of criminal proceeds. More than EUR 44 million has been received on accounts linked to the criminal group, while the criminal origin of a further EUR 5 million has already been identified. 

The investigation uncovered 44 individuals involved in these criminal activities, 10 of which organised the activity, while 34 were acting as strawmen. The strawmen, generally coming from a more vulnerable socio-economic environment, provided their personal information in exchange for minimal compensation. In some cases, they also collaborated with the members of the criminal network while withdrawing and transporting assets for their account. Only connected with the scheme via recruiters, the strawmen were mainly involved with the money laundering process as opposed to the frauds committed outside of Hungary. 

Europol's support

Europol supported the case since 2020 by facilitating the exchange of information. Europol’s financial investigation team also provided specialised analytical support, including financial and cryptocurrency analysis and expertise. On the action day, Europol deployed three experts to Hungary to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases in real-time and provide leads to investigators in the field. 

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In 2020, Europol created the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) to increase synergies between economic and financial investigations and to strengthen its ability to support law enforcement authorities in effectively combating this major criminal threat.

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