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Crypto Money Laundering Ring Busted In Spain

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A large-scale cryptocurrency money laundering ring in Spain has been dismantled in a joint operation by Europol and Spanish law enforcement authorities.

Eleven vehicles, EUR16800 ($18871), around 200 cannabis plants, two crypto ATMs, computers, devices, jewels and relevant documents were seized. The authorities froze several bank accounts, four cold wallets and 20 hot wallets, to which EUR9 million ($10 million) was transferred.

The ring was offering services to criminal organizations to take fiat currency gained through illicit means and convert it to cryptocurrency in order to hide its illegal origin.

Spanish authorities believe that the criminals managed a cryptocurrency exchange business, including two crypto ATMs, to convert fiat currency into cryptocurrency for other criminal groups.

Another illegal method was smurfing technique. In this, illicit proceeds will be split into smaller sums and deposited in several bank accounts controlled by the organization to avoid suspicious transaction reporting. These funds are later exchanged into cryptocurrency.

There was also evidence of large scale international money transfers into the criminals' bank accounts that originated from corporate entities controlled by clients using their money laundering services.

Upon receipt of the funds, the criminals would immediately wire the money to various cryptocurrency exchanges where it would be converted into virtual currency.

In the joint investigation by Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and Europol, seven houses were searched, including a money exchange office and an indoor cannabis cultivation plant. Eight people were arrested and charged for involvement in the crypto money laundering ring.

The joint operation was a follow-up to a similar one carried out by police in Spain and Colombia last year, in which they arrested 23 members of two criminal gangs involved in cryptocurrency money laundering.

In the European Union Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) 2017, Europol stated that an increasing number of individual criminal entrepreneurs offer Crime as a Service (CaaS). The online trade in services enables individual criminals to operate their own criminal business without needing the infrastructures maintained by "traditional" organized crime groups.

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