Police have arrested “one of Europe’s biggest money launderers” after a raid in southern Spain, saying the British-Irish suspect is believed to have moved more than 200 million euros ($200 million) in illegal money.
The operation, led by the Spanish Civil Guard and coordinated by Europol, is seen as a major blow to the notorious Kinahan organized crime group, which US law enforcement officials described as a “threat to the entire legitimate economy.”
The main suspect in the case was detained on Monday “as a result of an international law enforcement operation led by the Spanish Civil Guard,” Europol said.
“Two of his associates were also arrested in Spain and one in the UK,” Europol said in a statement on Thursday.
Europol did not name the suspect, but a source close to the investigation and Irish newspapers said he was 62-year-old John Francis Morrissey, a known associate of the notorious Kinahan gang.
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The Dubai-based Kinahan gang — led by, among others, Irishman Daniel Kinahan — “smuggles deadly drugs, including cocaine, into Europe and poses a threat to the entire legitimate economy through its role in international money laundering,” the US Treasury Department Deputy Minister Brain E. Nelson said.
Law enforcement officials said Morrissey was selling the brand of vodka on Spain’s tourist-packed Costa del Sol, allegedly to mask his white-washing activities.
He also worked as an enforcer for the Kinahan cartel and helped with drug shipments from South America.
Morrissey “and his associates were responsible for collecting large sums of cash from criminal organizations which they then ‘delivered’ to other criminal organizations in other countries,” Europol said.
Using the so-called underground hawala banking system, which operates on the basis of face-to-face transactions, “the suspects are believed to have laundered more than €200 million using this method,” Europol said.
– “High value target” –
Morrissey “is one of our valuable targets,” Europol spokeswoman Claire Georges told AFP.
“His arrest came after a complex investigation,” she said.
The Spanish Civil Guard was leading the investigation, working with Britain’s National Crime Agency, Dutch police, the Irish Garda and Europol, which coordinated the international operation.
Earlier this year, the US Treasury Department sanctioned the Kinahan crime family, along with Morrissey and several other alleged associates of the group.
In April, the U.S. Treasury Department said Morrissey was “appointed for providing material assistance, sponsorship, or the provision of financial, material, or technological support, or goods or services to or in support of the Kinahan Group.”
Working as a “brand ambassador” for Nero Drinks, a British premium vodka company, Morrissey “made a serious investment in the company”.
However, Morrissey transferred “a significant portion of the business to Daniel Kinahan to offset the large amount of drugs seized by law enforcement,” the US Treasury Department said.
“Key members of the organization in Spain created a brand of vodka that was promoted in nightclubs and restaurants on the Costa del Sol to disguise the source of their earnings,” Europol said.
“One of the arrested suspects ran a car dealership and was responsible for providing vehicles to a criminal organization in which he built hidden compartments to transport large sums of cash undetected,” Europol added.
Monday’s arrests did come after Spanish police launched an investigation early last year after seizing 200 kilograms of cocaine and €500,000 in cash stashed in hidden compartments in cars used by the gang.
“The case was quickly transferred to Europol due to its international nature,” the agency noted.