Spanish police make record cash haul from drug traffickers
Spanish police said Monday announced the seizure of a record 25 million euros ($35 million) in cash and the arrest of 21 people in Spain and the United States involved in laundering money from drug trafficking.
"It is the largest single amount of cash seized in Europe coming from drug trafficking," the head of the special police unit combating money-laundering, Jose Luis Olivera, told a news conference.
A total of 17 people were detained in and around Madrid and four in Miami, Florida in an operation staged in coordination with the FBI.
The four held in the US included the "brains" behind the organisation, Alvaro Lopez Tardon, a Spaniard.
Police also arrested his brother, Artemio, in Madrid, in whose home they found 25 million euros in cash under the living room floor.
"We have broken up the organisation cut off their operations," said the officer in charge of the operation, Jose Luis Gudina, told the same news conference.
He said the operation, codenamed "Azalea" after the name of the street where Artemio lived, has been ongoing for two years, during which police investigated "all the businesses and their proxies" used by the gang to move their money.
The network was involved in laundering money from drug trafficking from Colombia through a network of companies principally engaged in export-import, often involving luxury cars, and with accounts in tax havens.
Police also seized 21 properties in Madrid and four Miami, worth 75 million euros, as well as 60 cars, jewelry, watches, gold, and five firearms.
A police statement described it as the "biggest network in Europe involved in laundering money from drug trafficking."
All those held are accused of money laundering and drug trafficking.
Spain's proximity to north Africa, a key source of hashish, and its close ties with its former colonies in Latin America, a major cocaine producing region, have made it a major gateway into Europe for drug traffickers.
© 2011 AFP