An investigation that involved the Spanish National Police and the Spanish Tax Agency, supported by Europol, led to the dismantling of a large organized crime group involved in arms trafficking and money laundering. The operational action took place on 12 November in the Spanish provinces of Alicante, Barcelona, and Valencia.
The criminal network, which included 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, subject to international embargoes. The illegal shipments were concealed in cargo ship transporting legally sourced armaments. The arm traffickers transported weapons and heavy armament, including tanks, through the Mediterranean. The criminal group was well-developed and carried out complex criminal activities internationally, including breaking a ship’s captain out of prison, who had been detained for arms trafficking by Greek authorities. Cracks in the group’s security started to show and a dispute between the group’s leaders over the control of their maritime activities led to their downfall.
The criminal activity generated large profits, which were introduced into the legal economy. The criminal network had set up a well-organized 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.
Europol supported the investigation since its beginning in 2018. The complexity of the criminal activities required the involvement of experts in different fields, including economics, weapons, technology, and commercial and international maritime transport.