On May 30, 2023, authorities in Italy and Spain carried out a joint operation to apprehend 33 individuals involved in a global money laundering syndicate. The suspects from Italy, Albania, Colombia, Morocco, and Syria, had established an extensive network of international companies to launder illicit funds. They offered professional criminal services to conceal the origins of proceeds from illegal drug trafficking in South America.
With assistance from Europol and Eurojust, the Italian Guardia di Finanza’s money-laundering experts uncovered a network of electronics companies scattered across various countries worldwide. As a result, assets worth €18.5 million were seized. The money laundering network relied on companies in nations such as China, Turkey, and the United States. By employing this complex web of businesses, organized crime groups could disguise the nature, source, location, ownership, control, origin, and/or destination of illegally obtained funds, thereby evading detection.
Trade-based money laundering was employed by the arrested criminals to launder drug profits generated within Europe. Referred to as the “Black Market Pesos Exchange,” this process minimized the risk of financial losses due to seizures and facilitated quicker access to the funds.
In this scheme, drug producers extended credit to Italian buyers, and brokers collected the profits obtained from selling the drugs in Europe. These funds were then funneled into companies and utilized to purchase goods, such as mobile phones from China, as an example. Subsequently, these goods were shipped to the United States and transported to Colombia, where they were sold on the market. The cartels, such as the Grupo Armado Organizado, received the cash from these sales, effectively serving as covert payment for the drugs supplied to European sellers.