Euro Cops Bust $47m Money Laundering Operation

Hungarian police are this week claiming to have dismantled a major organized crime gang responsible for laundering tens of millions of euros.

Supported by Europol, the Budapest Metropolitan Police raided 24 homes in early May, interrogating 16 suspects and formally arresting five, who have now been placed in pre-trial custody.

Officers also seized funds in 32 countries across Europe, Australia and South America, along with €140,000 ($150,000) in cash, a “high-end vehicle,” large quantities of mobile phones, SIM cards and storage devices, payment cards, weapons and ammunition, and jewellery.

At least 44 individuals are thought to have been involved in the money laundering scheme, 10 of whom organized the operation and the remainder acting as mules who used their accounts to withdraw and transfer funds.

Thought to have been active since September 2020, the network has been traced to at least €44m ($47m) in laundered funds, with a further €5m ($5.4m) identified as coming from criminal activity such as fraud.

“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,” Europol explained.

“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.”

The news follows the arrest of 1800 suspected money mules in Europe last December, in an operation which police claimed helped to prevent losses of €70m ($79m).

However, such occasional wins for law enforcement have done little to impact an underground industry thought to be worth as much as 5% of global GDP.

Law enforcement agencies have previously warned that pandemic-related economic strife forced many into acting as money mules.

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