Multi-National Money Laundering Network Dismantled in Lithuania

Published: 29 February 2024

Online Fraud KeyboardAn organized crime group defrauded more than $2 billion through a Lithuania-based financial institution providing online money laundering services. (Photo: Patrick Cannon, Flickr, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

Italian, Latvian, and Lithuanian authorities have joined forces to dismantle a major money laundering operation tied to a Lithuanian financial institution, suspected of laundering around two billion euro (US$2.17 billion) since 2017, Europol said Wednesday.

Law enforcement has arrested two main suspects accused of laundering money through a global network of shell companies and providing money laundering services to criminals via the internet.

The multinational cooperation among law enforcement and judicial authorities culminated in the capture of a third pivotal figure in Italy. This organization purportedly defrauded Italian authorities of 15 million euro ($16.25 million) in public funds, which investigators claim were channeled through the intricate web of money laundering operations associated with the Lithuania-based financial institution, which investigators did not identify.

The amount was derived from illicitly obtained “building bonuses” issued by Italian authorities, earmarked for renovation, insulation, and other energy-saving projects for existing buildings.

“In reality no repairs took place, and the applicants were not the owners or the buildings, did not even exist. The main perpetrator of this fraud was a practicing tax consultant, who arranged the awarding of bonuses for 72 other individuals who were aware of the abuse,” read the statement.

Europol and Eurojust – key players in orchestrating and coordinating the international operation – disclosed that approximately 250 judicial representatives and law enforcement personnel were mobilized during the operation, culminating in 18 arrests, including those of the three main suspects.

Investigators combed through 55 locations and seized over 11.5 million euro ($12.47 million) in assets and bank accounts, according to the statement.

The investigation revealed that the financial institution, set up in Lithuania in 2016 by an organized crime group based in Italy, was serving a wide range of criminals across the EU, enabling money laundering through a complex network of enterprises managed by proxies.

According to Europol, the two main suspects, residing in Lithuania and Latvia, ran the financial institution.

The criminal syndicate allegedly funneled ill-gotten gains from an array of illegal ventures, spanning tax evasion, cyber fraud, sham bankruptcies, and organized crime like drug trafficking.

Some of the illicit profits were injected into the Latvian and Lithuanian economies through investments in real estate and luxury vehicles.