POLICE in Spain have smashed what has been described as Europe’s ‘most important’ criminal gang producing fake €500 notes.

12 people have been arrested including the printer and distributors.

Six raids were carried out in homes, industrial buildings, and a caravan in Alicante, Barcelona, Malaga, Teruel, and Valencia Provinces.

The Policia Nacional, Catalunya’s Mossos d’Esquadra, and Europol were involved in the joint probe that started in mid-2021 after high-quality counterfeit €500 notes were found circulating across Spain.

The ring-leader was a printer arrested in 2009 for similar crimes with an expertise in graphic art.

The bogus notes bore the hallmarks of his previous work.

The investigation uncovered a bag in the Barcelona area containing over €4 million in counterfeit bills.

The gang all got to know each other while serving sentences for different crimes at Picassent prison in Valencia Province.

The friendship was maintained when they were released with the printer bringing them together to work at and distribute fake notes from a facility he set up in Valencia Province.

Police said that the plant produced around €8 million in €500 bills when it operated for around three months.

The money was used to finance other criminal activities including drug trafficking.

The Covid pandemic meant specialist materials to make the notes could not be imported from China, but the operation eventually resumed at a La Nucia warehouse close to the printer’s home at l’Alfas del Pi in Alicante Province.

When the police raids occurred, the group were already planning to move their printing hub to France.

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