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Spanish authorities arrest 197 following EU-funded trafficking and laundering investigations

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The Spanish National Police have arrested 197 people on charges related to drug trafficking, sex crimes, money laundering, corruption, and other high-risk crimes following 29 investigations funded by the European Union (EU). The cases, which Europol and countries within and outside the EU collaborated on, focused on large criminal networks considered a threat to European security.

“We focus on the criminal networks posing the highest risk of serious and organized crime to the EU,” said Jari Liukku, Head of Department for the European Serious and Organised Crime Centre, in a 2022 Europol publication. “By doing this, we provide continuous support to Member States in top priority operations.”

Collaborative investigations lead to millions in asset seizures

According to the Spanish National Police, 17 European national authorities and three EU bodies besides Europol collaborated with Spain in the investigations. These joint investigations aligned with the 2020-2025 EU Security Union Strategy, which lists four key goals:

  • A future-proof security environment.
  • Addressing evolving threats.
  • Protecting Europeans from organized crime and terrorism.
  • Enabling a robust security ecosystem in Europe.

Source: European Union

The operations resulted in substantial asset seizures, including: 

  • More than 8,000 kilos of drugs. 
  • Over €4 million in cash. 
  • 47 weapons.
  • Properties valued at around €12 million.
  • €10 million blocked in an account. 

The individuals arrested represented at least 34 nationalities spanning Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the UK. Of those, six belong to what Spanish authorities have described as “dangerous criminal organizations with a high capacity for organized crime activities in Europe.” Another six represent high-value targets for EU member states.

The arrests follow other initiatives by, or supported by, the EU, including the dismantling of a network that had laundered drug proceeds worth more than €65 million, resulting in the arrest of 27 people by Spanish authorities in July 2023.

In September 2023, Europol also issued its first European financial and economic crime threat assessment, exploring the intertwined and evolving threats of money laundering, corruption, and organized crime in Europe. The insights were drawn from collaborative intelligence across EU member states and Europol-partnered authorities.

The importance of holistic financial crime investigation

As authorities worldwide collaborate in criminal investigations across national borders, firms should consider following suit. Although there are challenges with industry information-sharing, public-private collaboration can help firms and authorities come together to combat financial crime. Even within their firms, anti-money laundering (AML) teams often operate in siloed environments despite the interconnected nature of financial crime. Yet a lack of collaboration can prevent firms from taking advantage of rich resources to tackle the problem holistically.

Compliance teams looking to enhance their information exchange procedures may want to consider key Financial Action Task Force (FATF) resources. These include:

AML for Remittance and Cross-Border Payments

Expert input: how should compliance teams in remittance and cross-border payment firms build and scale their anti-money laundering (AML) programs?

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Originally published 28 September 2023, updated 08 February 2024

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