This content is not available in your region

Over 100 arrested in Spain and Italy in major money-laundering sting

Access to the comments Comments
By Euronews
Spanish and Italian police were assisted by Europol and Eurojust.
Spanish and Italian police were assisted by Europol and Eurojust.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Mike Corder, File

More than 100 people have been arrested in Spain and Italy following a joint investigation into money laundering.

The sting targeted an Italian mafia gang on the Spanish island of Tenerife, who are accused of laundering more than €10 million.

The group is alleged to have made its money through a number of online scams in several European countries.

The police operation -- supported by Europol -- led to the arrests of 106 people, authorities said on Monday.

Most of the suspects were Italian nationals who were detained in the Canary Islands, Europol said in a statement.

Those arrested have been accused of a variety of charges including fraud, drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, robbery, and illegal possession of weapons.

Two of the suspects already had European Arrest Warrants for drug trafficking and robbery offenses.

The group tricked their victims -- mostly Italian citizens -- into sending large sums of money into bank accounts that they controlled.

They then laundered through a wide network of cryptocurrencies or reinvested it in other criminal activities, such as prostitution, drugs, and arms trafficking, according to Italian police.

"The suspects defrauded hundreds of victims through phishing attacks and other types of online fraud such as SIM swapping and business email compromise," said Europol.

"Last year alone, the illegal profit is estimated at about €10 million," the authority added.

Police carried out 18 house searches as part of the joint operation, froze 118 bank accounts, and also seized dozens of electronic devices and credit cards.

Authorities also uncovered a marijuana plantation with more than 400 plants during the raids.

"This large criminal network was very well-organised in a pyramid structure, which included different specialised areas and roles," Europol said.

The investigation into the group began in June 2020 when Spanish police began looking into a group of people on Tenerife who were linked to different Italian mafia clans.

"[Their] mission was to launder the money obtained through multiple computer crimes committed in Spain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom," Spanish police said in a statement.

Police said on one occasion that suspects had kidnapped a woman and forced her at gunpoint to steal money from one of their bank accounts.

When she opened 50 online bank accounts for the organisation and was arrested, the suspects threatened her to prevent her testifying against them.

"The extreme violence of this group also manifested itself in other criminal actions," Spanish police said.

"They beat up, robbed, and extorted members of the organisation who deviated from their rules, as well as other people or companies in Tenerife."