In life, some things will never change. Since the days of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman – the infamous drug lord considered the most powerful opiate trafficker in the world by the United States Department of the Treasury – there have been thousands of drug syndicates all over the world.
As the illicit trade remains lucrative, these die-hard criminals are getting even more sophisticated. Now, the Europol has busted another powerful drug ring in Europe, which tried to use cryptocurrencies in facilitating its operations.
Europol, the no-nonsense law enforcement agency of the European Union has shut down a sophisticated drugs trafficking ring that tried to take advantage of the decentralized nature of blockchain-based virtual currencies, along with bank-issued credit cards to launder over €8 million ($9.9 million) through a Finland-based cryptocurrency exchange.
According to a statement by the crime busters, 11 people have been arrested in connection with money laundering from Spain to Colombia using cryptocurrencies and credit cards.
The arrest operations would not have been possible without the cooperation of Guardia Civil, which is the pioneer law enforcement agency in Spain, Finnish law enforcement authorities and the U.S Department of Homeland Security investigative arm.
In what may be the most significant bitcoin and drugs-related crime of the year, about 137 individuals have been interrogated so far. The suspects used a total of 174 bank accounts in their money laundering operations. An excerpt from the Europol statement reads:
“Members of a crime ring laundered money earned by other organized crime groups, who made their money selling drugs, by using credit cards and cryptocurrencies.”
Stronger Mainstream Finance Systems Needed
In recent times, it has become quite easy for fraudsters to seamlessly open many bank accounts and obtain credit cards that aid them in carrying out their illicit acts.
“The criminals based in Spain were contacted by drug traffickers to launder money obtained from their illegal activities. They picked up the illicit proceeds in cash, which were then split into small quantities to be deposited into hundreds of third bank accounts.”
After successfully getting the funds into the banking system, the alleged fraudsters then traveled to Colombia and used credit cards to withdraw some of the funds. In a bid to better cover their tracks, they quickly opened a crypto account with a local exchange and used the remaining funds to buy bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and went ahead to change the cryptos into Colombian Pesos, which they quickly deposited into Colombian bank accounts on that very day.
According to Europol statement, the Finnish authorities informed investigators that the local crypto exchange is headquartered in Finland. Luckily for the officers, the Finnish crypto exchange cooperated with them and shared the personal details of the alleged criminals.
Cryptocurrencies are not Efficient Tools for criminals
Most criminals who try using blockchain-based virtual currencies to aid their activities have ended up being caught. In December 2017, BTCManager reported the case of Aaron Shamo, a US-based Opioid merchant who got busted by law enforcement and his $8.5 million worth of bitcoin confiscated. Law enforcement agents have also arrested several bad actors trying to use cryptocurrencies in aiding their corrupt practices and terrorism funding.
With these criminals determined to keep trying to exploit the inherent advantages of digital money, Law enforcement agents have also made considerable efforts to increase their expertise in crime fighting.
“Europol has organized specialized training courses to assist law enforcement officers in identifying the use of cryptocurrencies by organized crime networks.”
Bitcoin is not for criminals and drug barons. It’s decentralized money aimed at making life more comfortable. May the criminals keep getting busted and severely punished.