20 arrested in international drug trafficking, money laundering bust

Suspects in Spain, Portugal and Venezuela are accused of laundering more than $10M

Alyssa Mcmurtry  | 17.04.2024 - Update : 17.04.2024
20 arrested in international drug trafficking, money laundering bust


In a coordinated operation, police forces said on Wednesday that they arrested 20 people in Spain, Portugal and Venezuela linked to an international drug trafficking and money laundering operation.

According to Spanish police and Europol, the gang, active for more than eight years, is accused of laundering more than €10 million ($10.6 million).

The investigation began when Catalan police found 1.4 tonnes of cocaine from Brazil in Barcelona in 2018.

From there, Catalan police collaborated with national, Portuguese and European authorities to unravel the financial aspects of the massive narco operation.

The money laundering operations were sophisticated, utilizing a method known as “smurfing” — small, hard-to-detect deposits made by "mules" at various banks, Spanish police say.

These mules were paid commissions to inject cash into the financial system, effectively skirting anti-money laundering controls.

Further investigations revealed the laundering network's use of cars and transport company vehicles altered with hidden compartments to transport euros and US dollars across the Iberian Peninsula, particularly between Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon.

Police also uncovered a secondary laundering technique involving money injections into a network of companies linked to a businessman in Almeria, Spain. This network staged commercial transactions to move funds internationally.

At the same time, part of the laundered money was funneled into real estate, including significant assets in South America.

The crackdown operation was carried out over two days in March and involved 13 different searches.

In total, nearly €200,000 in cash and gold bars; more than 50 vehicles; jewelry and watches worth more than €500,000; and electronic devices were seized.

More than 100 bank accounts and 10 real estate properties worth over €3 million were also blocked.

Authorities do not rule out more arrests in the future.

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