Europol reports that seven arms traffickers supplying explosives and weapons to conflict zones have been arrested and 18 properties worth about €10 million seized in the Spanish provinces of Alicante, Barcelona and Valencia.
Europol supported the investigation that was led by the Spanish National Police, Mossos d’Esquadra and the Spanish Tax Agency and which resulted in the dismantling of a large organised crime group. Image: omnimages/123rf
The criminal network, made up of Latvian, Spanish and Ukrainian members, illegally transported Russian weapons and explosives in commercial ships from Ukraine mainly to conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East, which are subject to international embargoes.
The illegal shipments were concealed in a cargo ship that was transporting legally sourced armaments. The traffickers transported weapons and heavy armament, including tanks, through the Mediterranean Sea.
The criminal group was well-established and had carried out complex criminal activities, including breaking a ship’s captain out of prison who had been detained for arms trafficking by Greek authorities.
The criminal activity generated large profits which were introduced into the economy because the group had set up a well-organised money laundering scheme which enabled them to invest their criminal proceeds in legal businesses.
The profits were sent to tax havens before being sent to countries with lower financial accountability. The assets were then transferred to bank accounts in European countries, mainly Switzerland and the United Kingdom. From there, the criminals transferred the money to Spain where it was used under the camouflage of legal commercial activity. This scheme allowed them to invest the criminal profits in properties and finance their luxury lifestyles.
However, cracks in the group’s security started to show and a dispute between the group’s leaders over the control of their maritime activities eventually led to their downfall.
The investigation started in 2018. The complexity of the criminal activities required the involvement of experts in many fields including economics, weapons, technology and commercial and international maritime transport.
Europol supported the case with operational analysis and information and deployed an expert to Spain to crosscheck operational information against its databases and provide links to investigators in the field. The organisation also provided technical support for the analysis of the seized electronic devices.
Read Europol’s report here