Agents of the National Police, together with the Belgian Federal Police and EUROPOL, have detained the head of a criminal network that allegedly laundered money from drug trafficking through a business network dedicated to the sale of luxury cars located in Marbella.
The arrest was made possible thanks to a series of raids carried out earlier this year (26 January) in the region of Antwerp, Belgium. On this occasion, a large amount of banking and financial information was collected, the analysis of which led to the identification of the culprit.
During the course of this two-year investigation, officers seized criminal assets worth an estimated EUR 2.3 million. The suspect arrested in Spain is now awaiting extradition to Belgium.
The vehicle for money laundering
The crime group is believed to have provided drug trafficking networks with money laundering services aimed at disguising the nature, origin, destination and ownership of ill-gotten funds.
The cash from the drug trade would be first collected in Belgium, before being used in another European country to purchase luxury vehicles with a price tag in excess of EUR 100 000. Through the purchase of such expensive vehicles, the criminals were effectively converting the illicit cash into assets which would serve to disguise the origin of the money. These cars were then exported to other countries where they were first rented out, before being sold off.
Criminals will often use expensive assets, including cars, boats and luxury planes and jewellery to disguise illegal funds and later convert them into clean cash. Such luxury purchases give criminals the opportunity to legitimise significant amounts of money in a single transaction. When using cash as a means of payment, the funds are deposited into the mainstream financial system, removing footprints of the transaction and complicating the ability to trace the source of wealth at purchase.