Europol, in collaboration with Italian Financial Guard and Spanish Regional Catalan Police, has successfully dismantled a large criminal network involved in large-scale cannabis trafficking.
The operation, which took place on October 17th, resulted in the arrest of 78 individuals (58 in Italy and 20 in Spain) and the seizure of substantial amounts of drugs, weapons, and assets worth €845,000.
Europol’s key role in the operation
Europol played a pivotal role in supporting the investigation by facilitating information exchange and providing continuous analytical support. The agency’s assistance enabled the coordinated efforts of police in Italy and Spain, leading to the arrest of 78 suspects.
Sophisticated criminal network unravelled
The criminal network, responsible for trafficking over six tonnes of cannabis and hashish into the European Union, was a complex web of individuals and operations. Moroccan nationals based in Spain orchestrated drug deliveries to Spain and organised their subsequent shipment to various distributors in Italy. The operation involved multiple stages, from cannabis collection, storage, transportation, and distribution to payment and money laundering activities. Furthermore, the criminals utilised encrypted communication platforms, such as Sky ECC and Encrochat, to coordinate their activities.
Innovative money laundering techniques exposed
One of the revelations of this operation was the use of an underground banking system. Similar to hawala, known as fei-ch’ien, it was used for arranging payments related to the drug shipments. This system, predominantly run by Chinese nationals, enabled the transfer of cash across international borders through a network of trusted offices, without the physical movement of money. This innovative money laundering technique added another layer of complexity to the criminal network’s operations.
While the recent operation led to significant arrests and seizures, the investigations are far from over. Law enforcement agencies continue to work on financial and asset recovery aspects related to the criminal network.