If the Civil Guard stops us, we take care of the losses and replace the money. A guaranteed service. That was the main claim of a network of professional launderers dismantled last week by the Central Operational Unit (UCO) Guardia Civil and which focused on laundering drug trafficking funds within Spain. According to sources of the investigation, the rate was simple: up to 15% of what was moved, in exchange for ensuring the permanence of the funds. If the launderers were caught, they would replenish the money. If any court blocked any property of its clients, the same. Such was the confidence that this network had in their work that they covered any loss. Even so, and after months of investigation, the Armed Institute has managed to arrest 21 people, carry out 24 searches, block 124 accounts, 52 properties, and track from international operations completed in China to the illegal sale of industrial marijuana. A difficult bill to pay now.
According to sources in the case, the investigation began in mid-2017, with the so-called Torreblanca operation, a joint investigation by the National Police and the Civil Guard that resulted in 28 people being arrested, accused of laundering money for Colombian drug trafficking clans or Chinese mafias. . In that investigation, the agents detected an extensive network of companies with legal appearance. In the end, it turned out that the different companies, far from a legal operation, were designed to facilitate the "race" between them. That is to say: the transfer of money between companies with false purchases, loans or services, and with the sole objective of making it difficult to trace its illicit origin. Drug money passing for business money.
From there, the launderers placed the funds in Chinese banks with the excuse of false purchases of merchandise that were never made, or with shipments from the East that entered Spain well below market value. Everything served to place black money in the legal market. Or vice versa, since they also charged a commission if any company, for example in the hydrocarbon sector, wanted to remove large amounts of cash from the legal circuit.
However, one of his main laundering activities was the purchase of gold. Illegal gold, of course. On the one hand, a perista based in Extremadura bought stolen jewelry well below market value. The metal was then melted down into ingots and passed off as the legal raw material that a wholesale company worked with. Later, Colombian or Chinese clients also bought that material, laundering funds along the way and obtaining a legal appearance for their profits. In total, the agents recorded that 2.5 tons of gold were moved in this way. "Imagine the amount of sticks they had to give to get all that gold," explain sources who know the case well.
A hidden clue in a phone
The Torreblanca operation exploded on August 8, 2019, after more than a year of secret investigations. The arrests focused on Toledo and Madrid. The investigators then estimated that the laundered money could reach 70 million euros. There were also arrests in the Netherlands, where five tons of cocaine were also located, 19 companies in Spain, 100 cars and other vehicles and 70 buildings were blocked. A good break to whiteners. In addition, at that time the UCO agents did not know that they had found another clue to continue pulling the thread.
It was the WhatsApp messages of one of those investigated that alerted the Civil Guard that this group had new undetected connections. Whiteners worked with other whiteners. Money calls money. Thus, the courts opened new proceedings to investigate in depth and secretly this new group. Thus, the Gaona operation was born, which focused its investigations on several targets based in the province of Toledo. It was a local mafia with an international scope, since from the center of Spain they moved money from Panama or Dubai to place it, already laundered, in countries that were not very cooperative in the fight against money laundering. Safe places for them and complicated places for investigators.
On May 6, UCO agents collected the fruit of months of investigation: 21 new detainees in Madrid, Toledo, Badajoz, Ciudad Real and Alicante, 24 entries and records, 124 blocked bank accounts and 52 real estate properties under scrutiny of the court. On this occasion, the network worked in a similar way, offering its network of companies to different groups to launder funds in exchange for a commission. Among the clients, for example, was an Albanian drug trafficker. In addition, those investigated were engaged in the purchase of industrial marijuana to sell it on the black market.
In Spain, it is legal to plant cannabis as long as two parameters are met: having a Health authorization that guarantees its cultivation for the production of regulated medicines, or having a permit for industrial uses, such as fiber and hemp products, to what is generally used is the stem of the plant once processed. In this second case, the buds of the same plant cannot be marketed except for other recycled uses, once destroyed, such as stove pellets. In addition, the plant must necessarily have less than 0.20% active ingredient. What this network did was buy those buds raised within the industrial activity and launch them on the black market multiplying their value. And committing various illegalities along the way. In the records, the agents also found 14 weapons of different characteristics. In this case, the main recipients were people of Chinese origin. In addition, those investigated had created their own hidden plantation also in Toledo.Marijuana seized during the operation.niusdiario.es
Thus, the UCO Money Laundering Group had to analyze a group of more than 50 companies until they found their connections. One of his main businesses for the gallery was the purchase of real estate. Or the alleged money laundering through them. On occasions, the network facilitated the payment of large amounts in B to buy goods within Spain. In others, the real estate served as an excuse for money laundering. For example, clients bought a house from this network with a reduced market price and a real price paid in B, and sold it a month and a half later to a third party in good faith, a real buyer who paid the market price, with what that the alleged mobster managed to wash the difference. Now, the agents investigate several operations of this type, some of them alerted even by the notaries to the Service for the Prevention of Money Laundering (SEPBLAC)
In this second round, the agents again detected false operations with Chinese companies, investment in precious metals and even the acquisition of cryptocurrencies. In this case, those investigated created a compensation system that involved both companies in the hydrocarbon sector with the intention of defrauding the Treasury and alleged Colombian drug traffickers, who received in compensation the cash value of the purchase of cryptocurrencies.