A criminal network comprising Albanian and Chinese nationals has been apprehended in Spain for its involvement in drug production, trafficking, and the laundering of money and criminal assets.
The Policía Nacional, in cooperation with Europol, successfully dismantled this criminal network. It had allegedly been engaged in drug trafficking and the laundering of substantial illicit proceeds. The investigation, initiated in 2021 following an intelligence report from Europol, led to the identification of a drug trafficking organisation.
The criminal syndicate, led by Albanian nationals, primarily operated in the production and distribution of marijuana while also orchestrating large-scale money laundering activities for various drug trafficking groups. Notably, they utilised the underground banking system known as “hawala” while maintaining close ties with Chinese nationals.
Arrest and seizure
On July 17, 2023, law enforcement efforts resulted in the following:
- The arrest of 27 individuals across Spain in cities including Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Seville, and Valencia.
- Seizures of luxury watches and jewellery valued at more than €400,000.
- Confiscation of high-end vehicles, smartphones, encrypted mobile devices, and €615,000 in cash.
The criminal network’s €65 million money laundering operation
Investigators estimate that this criminal network laundered over €65 million obtained from drug trafficking activities within a span of just one year, from May 2020 to March 2021 alone. Furthermore, Chinese nationals played a pivotal role in these illicit activities by laundering substantial amounts of criminal assets through legitimate businesses. These significant sums would initially pass through these legal structures before being redirected elsewhere. Ultimately, the illicit assets would return to their country of origin and be reinvested there.
Albanian “hawaladars” operated as an illegal banking entity, conducting transfers and concealing substantial sums of money derived from drug sales. This illicit funding was used to finance new criminal operations. The criminal network was led by two Albanian nationals. One served as the leader, and the other acted as a lieutenant and accountant. Two Chinese nationals worked alongside them as coordinators, managing a vast network of Asian establishments scattered throughout Spain. These establishments facilitated money laundering schemes for the profits generated from drug trafficking.
Europol’s vital role
Europol played a pivotal role in this operation by facilitating the exchange of information and providing analytical support. During the enforcement action, Europol deployed two experts to Spain to provide real-time operational information cross-checks and support on-site investigators with technical expertise and asset recovery capabilities.
Headquartered in The Hague, Europol collaborates with 27 EU Member States in their collective efforts to combat terrorism, cybercrime, and other forms of serious organised crime. The organisation also collaborates with numerous non-EU partner states and international organisations. With its comprehensive threat assessments, intelligence gathering, and operational activities, Europol possesses the necessary tools and resources to contribute to enhancing Europe’s security.