Spanish Police Bust Region's "Biggest Narco Bank"

Spanish police have taken down an organized crime gang believed to have laundered hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to Europol.

The European policing organization claimed that it worked alongside the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) and Tax Agency (Agencia Tributaria), as well as judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, to corner the gang.

The underground “narco bank” in question is said to have been run mainly by Syrian nationals and has helped to launder an estimated €300m ($292m) per year for drug traffickers and other criminal organizations since 2020.

The big bust came on September 27, when over 200 officers raided 21 locations in the Spanish provinces of Málaga and Toledo, arresting 32 individuals and seizing nearly €3m in criminal assets. These included €428,000 in cash, €1.5m in various cryptocurrency accounts, 11 luxury vehicles and many kilos of marijuana.

Europol claimed €2.9m in cash had already been seized during the course of the investigation.

The enterprise was apparently based in a restaurant in the city of Fuenlabrada, close to Madrid, and used the underground hawala network to transfer funds illegally while evading the scrutiny of law enforcement.

Trillions of dollars are thought to be laundered annually around the world, supporting criminal activities as varied as human trafficking, romance fraud and racketeering.

While most of this activity remains undetected, police score the occasional win. In June, Europol revealed details of a major anti-money laundering operation that bust a €44m criminal network.

The price criminals pay for committing such acts is also increasing: two foreign nationals were handed a combined 33 years of jail time at the UK’s Kingston Crown Court earlier this year following their conviction for money laundering.

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