The suspect, believed to be linked to a Dubai-based criminal clan, had allegedly laundered over ?200 million
Europol and Spanish police detained "one of Europe's biggest money launderers," who apparently worked for an international drug cartel, during a joint operation, the law enforcement agency said on Thursday.
According to Europol, the suspect, who is believed to have moved more than €200 million ($199 million) in illicit cash, was arrested on September 12 in the Spanish city of Malaga as part of an operation led by the Spanish Guardia Civil.
Although the agency did not disclose the identity of what it called a "high-value target," an AFP source said it was John Francis Morrissey, 62, an associate of the Kinahan Organised Crime Group. According to the US authorities, this Dubai-based criminal clan is known for smuggling "deadly narcotics, including cocaine, to Europe, and is a threat to the entire licit economy through its role in international money laundering."
The statement went on to say that the police also apprehended two of his accomplices, with 11 raids carried out in Spain and the UK.
The Europol notes that the main suspect and his associates were collecting large amounts of cash from criminal organizations so they could then deliver it to other criminal gangs in other countries. According to the agency, the would-be criminals moved money via the hawala underground banking system, which works on a face-to-face basis and does not involve any physical money actually moving.
To disguise the source of their income, the suspects created a brand of vodka promoted in nightclubs and restaurants in Malaga's environs, as well as a number of shell companies to conceal the true identity of people engaged in money laundering, Europol says.
The investigation, according to the statement, kicked off late last year when the Spanish police seized 200kg of cocaine and €500,000 stored in vehicles with hidden compartments that were owned by the criminal organization.
The arrest comes after the US Treasury sanctioned several top members of the Kinahan clan in April to stymie their financial operations, also offering a $5 million reward any for information leading to the arrest and conviction of members.