Spanish cops take down Europe’s biggest narco-bank weeks after Johnny Morrissey arrest
The operation followed the arrest of Morrissey, identified by US authorities in April as a key aide of the Kinahan Organised Crime Gang
Spanish cops have revealed how they have taken down Europe’s biggest ‘Hawala‘ narco bank following the arrest of Kinahan bag man Johnny Morrissey in Spain.
The money-launders, based in Southern Spain, are believed to have washed more than €300 million in drug money every year – and were converting crime funds into cyrptocurrencies.
In a statement today, Spanish police said more than 200 law enforcement officers raided a total of 21 locations in the Spanish provinces of Málaga and Toledo on September 27.
The operation resulted in 32 arrests and the seizure of almost €3 million of criminal assets.
Spanish authorities were backed up by Europol and Eurojust, the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) and Tax Agency (Agencia Tributaria) during the investigation.
As well as €428,205 in cash, 19 cryptocurrency accounts worth €1.5 million were also seized alongside 11 luxury vehicles, 70 kilos of hashish, 1.2 tonnes of marijuana and a plantation with 995 marijuana plants
The operation followed the arrest of Morrissey, just two weeks previous to the raids, who was also using the Hawala system to launder cash.
Veteran criminal Morrissey was identified by US authorities in April as a key aide of the Kinahan Organised Crime Gang, and was held on suspicion of money laundering after being arrested at his Costa del Sol home.
His wife, the CEO of a Glasgow-based vodka firm called Nero Drinks police are saying was used as a front, was also held although she was released after a court appearance.
According to Europol, the criminal network running the narco bank busted in the wake of Morrissey’s arrest, was composed mainly of Syrian nationals.
They provided financial services to criminal organisations linked to drug trafficking in more than 20 countries, Europol stated.
“Active since 2020, this criminal gang is believed to have laundered over €300 million per year,” they added in a statement.
“These seizures follow that of €2.9 million in cash made over the course of the investigation.
“Organised crime groups could make payments, receive funds and even have their proceeds laundered by this internationally structured financial network.”
According to Europol, the Spanish city of Fuenlabrada appeared to be the centre of the underground bank.
The criminals ran their money laundering activities from a local restaurant where their customers would come to deposit or collect bulk cash.
The hawala informal money transfer system was the main money laundering typology used to avoid law enforcement detection.
Essentially, Hawala is an informal funds transfer system that allows for funds to be moved through intermediaries known as ‘hawaladars’, without the money itself ever moving across jurisdictions.
A ‘hawaladar’ in one country can take receipt of the funds before contacting a hawaladar in another country who will pay out the equivalent sum in cash or goods – but the money itself does not have to cross borders.
No documentation is kept or recorded and the system works on trust between the hawaladars – making it the almost perfect system for terrorists and narcotics traffickers.
We recently revealed how the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) cracked the ‘untraceable’ money transfer system used by Morrissey to launder €200 million in drug cash seven years ago.
Under Project Cassandra, the DEA began investigating the ‘Hawala’ money transfer system in Europe in 2015 after it established that Hezbollah, the Lebanese ‘terror organisation’, was using it to facilitate ‘the movement of large quantities of cocaine into Europe and the United States’.
Under the same operation, the DEA said it had identified participants in the ‘intricate network of money couriers who collect and transport millions of euros in drug proceeds from Europe to the Middle East”.
Following Morrissey’s arrest, at which DEA officers were present, a spokesperson for Spain’s Guardia Civil was able to give an overall estimate of €200 million as the sum he laundered through the system in just 18 months or €350,000 a day.
It is not thought all this money was laundered on behalf of the cartel as Morrissey is also believed to have had contact with other criminal organisations.
Following his arrest, Morrissey now faces the possibility of being extradited to the US to face charges.
Money laundering penalties in the US can be extremely harsh.
In Morrissey’s case this means he is likely to be charged over his activities facilitating international drug shipments and his ‘enforcement’ activities.
These crimes could see him sentenced to life imprisonment. Unless, of course, he agrees to turn on his associates.
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