MADRID — The European Union police agency Europol said Friday that Spanish police have dismantled an organized crime group believed to have been running Europe’s biggest “narco-bank,” used to launder proceeds from international drug trafficking.
Europol said the group, composed mainly of Syrians, operated out of a restaurant in an industrial park in the central Spanish town of Fuenlabrada. There, customers could deposit or collect bulk cash and have their earnings laundered by the internationally structured financial network, Europol said.
Europol said the group provided financial services to crime gangs linked to drug trafficking in more than twenty countries across the world. Spanish police say it is believed to have laundered over 300 million euros ($290 million) each year since 2020.
The group used the so-called “hawala” system popular with criminal gangs and others to move large amounts of money without wire or other records.
Europol said 32 people were arrested in raids that took place Sept. 27. Spanish police said 11 people have been jailed, including the alleged ring leader and the group’s lawyer.
In all, police seized some 3 million euros ($2.9 million) in cash. They confiscated 11 luxury vehicles and quantities of hashish and marijuana. They also blocked 19 cryptocurrency accounts valued at 1.5 million euros ($1.45 million).
Europol said its support was central in the development of the Spanish investigation, by providing continuous intelligence development and analysis to map out the international activity of the network.