Europol is claiming to have helped dismantle an organized crime group that defrauded US banks out of an estimated €12m ($14.4m)
One a single day in October last year, an international police team led by the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) and the US Secret Service carried out 40 house searches, arrested 37 suspects and seized 13 luxury cars. As a result of Operation Secreto, they also froze 87 bank accounts holding a total of €1.3m (£1.6m).
The scheme, masterminded mainly by Greek nationals, involved the setting up of shell companies in the US with associated bank accounts and cards. Spanish retailers in on the scheme would then max out credit lines on issued cards before laundering the funds via other accounts in various European countries.
Over 50 US banks were defrauded in this way, according to Europol, which coordinated the operation with additional help from police in Austria, Denmark and Greece, as well as the US Department of Justice and the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
“Europol facilitated the information exchange, the operational coordination and provided analytical support for this eight-months long investigation,” it explained.
“During the operation, Europol set up a coordination center at its headquarters with the use of a virtual command post to enable liaison officers from the involved countries, Europol experts and a representative from Eurojust to coordinate the operational activities. Europol also deployed an analyst to Greece to provide real-time analytical support to investigators on the ground.”
In total, the operation led to 88 house searches, 105 arrests, the seizure of 14 luxury cars and €406,000 in cash, as well as the aforementioned frozen bank accounts.
A well-publicized leak of FinCEN data last year revealed around $2tn in global money laundering activity, although even this is thought to be just the tip of the iceberg.