An agent places the bundles of notes found by the investigation into a supermarket trolley. D.G.P.
On Tuesday the town of Fuenlabrada near Madrid was at the centre of an operation that has struck the heart of a massive Chinese criminal organisation thought to have cheated the Spanish taxman out of some 35 billion euros over the last decade. This amounts to 0.35 per cent of Spain’s current GDP. National Police Director General Ignacio Cosidó, said that it “distorted” the Spanish economy.
This is the biggest ever organised crime operation in Spanish history, and, according to the Interior Ministry, one of the most important raids against Chinese mafias outside Asia.
The investigation was codenamed ‘operation Chequian-Emperador’ after the nickname by which the organisation’s leader, Chinese businessman Gao Ping, is known.
Millions in cash
More than 83 people have been arrested; 124 searches were carried out in eight different provinces; 202 top-of-the-range vehicles, numerous weapons and more than 11 million euros in cash have been seized; and 200 accounts in 50 different banks have been frozen.
As well as Ping, the list of suspects arrested contains two more familiar names: Spain’s best known porn star Nacho Vidal and a Socialist councillor at Fuenlabrada town hall, José Borrás.
The raid took place in Fuenlabrada’s Cobo Calleja industrial estate, known as the Spanish ‘Chinatown’. With more than a million and a half square metres occupied by warehouses, this is Europe’s biggest storage and distribution centre for Asian merchandise. It is thought that the organisation run by Gao Ping controlled 90 per cent of the distribution of merchandise to the around 17,000 Chinese-run bazaars in Spain.
Officers from eight different police units moved in before dawn while at the same time more arrests and searches were carried in other parts of Spain, including Malaga.
The investigation began following suspicions that only a fraction - now thought to be less than 25 per cent - of the merchandise brought from China, in containers controlled by the “Emperor”, was declared.
The fraud was repeated when the products were sold wholesale to small businesses. With the help of three public employees - a Civil Guard, a Police inspector and a tax worker, all now arrested - it is thought that the benefits that escaped the taxman amounted to 20 million euros a month.
This extra cash was laundered in different ways, from paying people to travel by car or train to China with cases and bags full of bank notes, to more sophisticated investments in tax havens with the help of Spanish lawyers and Israeli ‘investors’, some of whom are among those arrested.
Profits were also invested in both legal and illegal business activities ranging from restaurants and real estate to prostitution and drug trafficking rings and a system of false contracts.
It is in the latter that the porn star Nacho Vidal is thought to have collaborated through one or more of his firms, by issuing false invoices for the Chinese.