A GANG that smuggled arms including tanks to war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa has been busted in Spain.
Properties worth about €10 million have been seized and seven suspects arrested in the operation, which was led by the National Police and Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra with the help of Europol and the Spanish tax agency.
Raids were made in Valencia, Alicante and Barcelona.
The criminal network made up of Latvian, Spanish and Ukrainian members, illegally shipped Russian weapons and explosives in merchant ships from Ukraine mainly to conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East. The destination countries are subject to international arms embargoes.
The illegal shipments were concealed amongst cargo transporting legally sourced armaments.
The arm traffickers transported weapons and heavy armament, including tanks, through the Mediterranean. The criminal group was highly organised and prepared to take action against law authorities.
Members even sprung a ship’s captain from jail after he had been arrested by Greek authorities for arms smuggling. But a power struggle within the criminal gang was to prove its downfall when cracks in its security began to show.
Police took advantage to place members under scrutiny as they gathered evidence for more than two years.
The smugglers pocketed large profits from their illicit trade, which were then laundered into the legal economy.
Bosses had set up a well-organised money-laundering scheme which enabled them to invest their criminal proceeds in legal businesses.
The profits were then sent to tax havens with lax financial rules, before being sent back to European bank accounts, mainly in Switzerland and the UK.
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.
The complex financial and criminal web woven needed professionals from many fields to help the investigation.
These included economics, weapons, technology and commercial, and international maritime transport experts.
Europol facilitated the information exchange and supported the case with operational analysis. During the action day on November 12, Europol provided support by deploying an expert to Spain to crosscheck operational information against Europol’s databases and provide links to investigators in the field. Europol also provided technical support for the analysis of the seized electronic devices.