Tide of dirty money rises
Police seizure haul totals EUR 4.1 billion over four years as tide of dirty money rises26 February 2008
MADRID - Six years ago, soon after Spain adopted the euro, analysts with the Police Criminal Intelligence Unit calculated that drug smugglers, people traffickers and other organised gangs had assets in excess of EUR 6 billion squirreled away in villas, luxury cars, yachts and bank accounts in Spain. New figures suggest they probably far underestimated the real size of the tide of black money in which the country was awash.
A report recently released by Spanish authorities shows that over the last four years, police have seized movable assets worth at least EUR 4.12 billion along with almost 1,300 properties - most of them at the high end of the market - that could be worth an additional
EUR 2 billion. And that is just what they have managed to confiscate, suggesting that it could merely be the tip of the iceberg.
Nonetheless, the fact that the value of criminal assets in Spain has come to light at all represents a major step forward in the fight against drug and people traffickers, mafia groups and money launderers to which most of the black money and goods seized to date has belonged. In the first half of 2002, the then Spanish presidency of the European Union introduced a directive recommending that police launch a fiscal investigation alongside criminal inquiries involving organised crime.
Until then, police had made numerous arrests and seized plenty of flashy cars and yachts from criminal gangs, but properties and especially money had remained hidden and beyond their reach. Applied in Spain, the directive led to the fusion of an assortment of police units dedicated to fighting financial crimes into a single entity: the Economic and Fiscal Crime Unit. It now has more than 100 officers around the country, with the largest number concentrated on the southern Costa del Sol, an area that has become synonymous with organised crime. While most of the unit's work has focused on rounding up Russian mafia bosses, Moroccan drug traffickers, Romanian pimps and British money launderers, it has also helped uncover the gangs' political connections, not least in investigations such as Operation Malaya that brought down the entire city hall of Marbella in 2006.
[Copyright El Pais / LUIS GÓMEZ 2008]