By John Ensor •
Published: 21 Sep 2023 • 16:46
Police seize illicit cash. Credit: PoliciaNacional/X
A highly lucrative international crime organisation has been uncovered and disbanded in a collaboration between law enforcement agencies.
A report published on Thursday, September 21, by Policia Nacional gave details of how they, together with Europol, cracked down on a major criminal syndicate involved in drug trafficking and money laundering using the ‘Hawala’ method. This operation led to the arrest of 27 individuals across various Spanish provinces including Madrid, Malaga, Seville, Valencia, Alicante, and Barcelona.
The ‘Hawala’ system is an informal method of transferring money without any physical money actually moving. Trusted brokers, known as ‘hawaladars’, facilitate these transactions. In this case, the Albanian ‘hawaladars’ functioned similarly to a banking institution, managing the ‘transfer’ and concealment of vast sums of money from drug sales and funding new ventures.
Initiated by intelligence reports from Europol, the investigation unveiled a network predominantly of Albanian origin, involved in narcotics, especially indoor marijuana cultivation. This group, in alliance with Chinese nationals, had established a sophisticated structure where both parties reaped mutual benefits from their illicit activities.
Chinese members would deposit large cash sums into their businesses, aiming to send this money back to China, bypassing Spain’s legal and formal controls. Meanwhile, the Albanian ‘hawaladars’ managed the money from drug sales and financed new operations.
At the helm of this intricate web were two Albanians – a leader and his deputy, responsible for accounting. Since 2018, they collaborated with two Chinese coordinators who oversaw a vast network of Asian establishments across Spain.
These establishments catered to the cash needs of drug trafficking organisations, using a unique TOKEN system, often linked to the serial number of a low-denomination banknote, as a security measure.
Between May 2020 and March 2021, the group made frequent cash handovers to Albanian crime rings, totalling nearly €65.5 million across provinces like Barcelona, Malaga, Valencia, Madrid, Seville, and Alicante.
Investigators discovered some members frequenting a ‘growshop’. Surveillance led them to a house in Madrid where three individuals were apprehended with almost 65 kilograms of narcotics. The Albanian leader was also arrested for kidnapping one of the ‘hawaladars’.
Ultimately, the operation netted 27 arrests across Alicante (one), Barcelona (six), Madrid (seven), Malaga (seven), Seville (two), and Valencia (one). Seized assets included €615,000 in cash, 10 luxury watches valued over €400,000, two premium vehicles, money counters, computer gear, and encrypted phones.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
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