They moved millions of euros around the world to pay for drugs, reportedly using a system known as ‘hawala’ so there was no trace of the transactions. This is an old system of transferring money outside the banking system in which the funds are paid via at least one agent.
The National Police, who have just broken up the network, say the organisation had become the biggest source of finance for drug trafficking in Europe and several Chinese members were operating out of a unit on the Guadalhorce industrial estate in Malaga.
The investigators believe the profits from these financial operations could amount to more than 300 million euros.
The Police 'Operation Caldo-Ramz' began when officers learned of the existence of a criminal network comprised mainly of Syrians, led by a man who operated out of Madrid and Toledo to finance several drug trafficking organisations in Spain and abroad.
They discovered that his base of operations was a restaurant on an industrial estate in Fuenlabrada. Clients went to and fro every day to collect money and as well as 24-hour security every effort was made to ensure that large amounts of cash were never stored on the premises. The money is said to have come mainly from Chinese business owners.
The group also delivered and collected money in person. After two years of investigations, the police successfully seized 2,420,000 euros which were being transported by members of the group and its clients.
As well as the hawala system, the group had also developed a more sophisticated version, using virtual currency as an alternative way of avoiding national and international control systems on the movement of money.
The operation came to its conclusion at the end of September when more than 120 police officers carried out searches of 21 properties in Madrid and Toledo and teams of police were also deployed in other provinces including Álava and Malaga.
Altogether 32 people were detained and in addition to luxury cars and watches the police seized 484,205 euros in cash, a semi-automatic pistol, 470 grammes of hashish, 1235 kilos of marijuana buds and a plantation with 995 marijuana plants. They also blocked 19 virtual currency accounts valued at 1.5 million euros.
Eleven of the people arrested have been sent to prison as a precautionary measure, including the leader of the group and his lawyer.