Spain arrests ‘one of Europe’s biggest money launderers’

Police have arrested “one of Europe’s biggest money launderers” after a raid in southern Spain, saying the British-Irish suspect is believed to have transferred more than 200 million euros ($200 million) in illicit cash.

The operation, led by the Spanish Civil Guard and coordinated by Europol, is seen as a major blow to the notorious organized crime group Kinahan, which US law officials have described as a “threat to the entire legitimate economy.”

Europol said the main suspect in the case was arrested on Monday “as a result of an international law enforcement operation led by the Spanish Civil Guard”.

“Two of his associates were also arrested in Spain and one in the United Kingdom,” Europol said in a statement on Thursday.

Europol did not name the suspect, but a source close to the investigation and Irish newspapers said it was John Francis Morrissey, 62, a known associate of the notorious Kinahan gang.

Read also: Cabinet approves bill to strengthen anti-money laundering

Headquartered in Dubai, the Kinahan crime group – led by Irishman Daniel Kinahan – “smuggles deadly drugs, including cocaine, into Europe, and poses a threat to the entire legitimate economy through its role in international money laundering,” US Treasury Undersecretary Brian E. Nelson said.

Legal officials said Morrissey sold a type of vodka along the tourist Costa del Sol in Spain, allegedly to conceal his white-washing activities.

He also worked as an enforcer for the Kinahan cartel and helped with drug shipments from South America.

“Morrissy and his associates were responsible for collecting large sums of cash from criminal organizations, which they would then” hand over to other criminal organizations in other countries,” Europol said.

Using the so-called secret hawala banking system, which operates on the basis of face-to-face transactions, “the suspects are believed to have laundered more than 200 million euros using this method,” Europol said.

– ‘High-value target’ –

“One of our high-value targets,” Europol spokeswoman Claire George told AFP.

“His arrest came after a complex investigation,” she said.

The investigation was led by the Spanish Civil Guard, which worked with Britain’s National Crime Agency, Dutch police, Irish police and Europol, which coordinated the international operation.

Earlier this year, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on the Kinahan criminal family, as well as Morrissey and several other alleged associates of the group.

The US Treasury said in April that Morrissey was “designated to provide material assistance, sponsorship, or provision of financial, material, or technological support, goods, or services to the Kinahan Group.”

Hired as a “brand ambassador” for Nero Drinks, a British-based company that makes premium vodka, Morrissey has “invested heavily in the company.”

The US Treasury said Morrissey gave “a significant portion of the work to Daniel Kinahan to compensate for quantities of narcotics seized by law enforcement.”

“The main members of the organization in Spain have created a brand of vodka that is being promoted in nightclubs and restaurants on the Costa del Sol to hide the source of their earnings,” Europol said.

“One of the arrested suspects was running a car dealership and was responsible for providing vehicles for the criminal organization in which he built hidden compartments to transport large amounts of undetected cash,” Europol added.

Monday’s arrests came after Spanish police opened an investigation early last year after seizing 200 kilograms of cocaine and 500,000 euros in cash, hidden in hidden compartments in cars used by the gang.

“The case was quickly submitted to Europol due to its international nature,” the agency said.

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