Italy and Spain Dismantle Cartel Money Laundering Network
Italian and Spanish authorities arrested Tuesday 33 suspected members of a global money laundering network that operated at the behest of South American cartels and seized almost 20 million euro (US$21.4 million) of their assets.
The alleged perpetrators, who are nationals of Italy, Albania, Colombia, Morocco, and Syria, managed an international network of companies specifically built to launder the proceeds from the cartel’s drug trafficking operations.
Money laundering experts across Italy and Spain have investigated the network’s activities since at least 2020, Europol said.
The offenders allegedly designed a trade-based money laundering service known as the “Black Market Pesos Exchange,” a process which could wash the cartels’ money at an accelerated rate while also reducing the risk of any seizures at the hands of police.
The cartels would sell their drugs to Italian buyers as a form of credit and the profits were then invested by brokers across China, Turkey, and the U.S., into companies implicated in the conspiracy.
One such Chinese-based company ordered mobile phones from domestic distributors and then shipped them to Colombia by way of the United States. Upon arriving in Colombia, the phones were resold on the local market and the proceeds were delivered to the cartels, thus completing the circle.
Italy’s financial law enforcement body, the Guardia di Finanza, reported that investigators had managed to infiltrate an undercover agent into the network of international brokers, upon learning that the Sicilian and Calabrian mafias were involved in the conspiracy.
Apart from communicating on encrypted channels, the suspects also operated in sparsely-populated areas across Italy, so as not to arouse suspicion, police said.
In Italy alone, investigators linked no less than 42 cases of money laundering to the brokers and seized 18.5 million euro ($19.9 million) of the cartels’ assets.