In mid-May, Europol supported the Spanish Guardia Civil in carrying out Operation Snake. The operation targeted and dismantled a large transnational organised crime network which operated in Spain and was composed of Chinese citizens laundering the proceeds of various criminal activities.

Operating since at least 2009, this criminal network is thought to be the subsidiary of an even larger criminal network based in China. Over the last six years, the European branch of the group collected and laundered more than Euro 300 million primarily in southern European countries. Most of the laundered funds are believed to have already been transferred out of the EU.

The network imported various types of products into the EU, including counterfeit products, using fraudulent document and engaging in excise tax fraud. The criminal network facilitated its activities by establishing complex corporate structures and relying on front men and third parties in their transactions.

Imported products were sold in the EU without declaring excise taxes and generated significant profits of at least Euro 14 million. These undeclared profits were laundered using a large number of low-level associates, who deposited small sums of money in hundreds of personal bank accounts and transferred the money back to China.

Having established an infrastructure to successfully launder significant amounts of money, the Chinese network also offered money laundering and international remittance services to other organised crime groups in exchange for the payment of a negotiated percentage of the laundered funds. The Chinese network had contacts in various EU Member States including Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom. The group also operated several clothing factories in the vicinity of Madrid where Chinese labourers were exploited.

Operation Snake involved more than 200 Spanish law enforcement officers and was supported by Europol’s Financial Intelligence Group. The Operation was the result of a complex international criminal investigation lasting for more than two years.

Operation Snake so far resulted in the arrests of 32 members of the Chinese network, the search of 65 private residences and company premises in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia as well as the seizure of 20 high-value vehicles and more than Euro 1 million in cash.

Europol was able to make valuable and tangible contribution to this successful operation by assisting the Spanish Guardia Civil with the deployment of a Europol team to Madrid. The team provided on-the-spot real-time intelligence analysis, which allowed for the identification of several transnational links.