A joint operation between global law enforcement agencies and Europol has ended a criminal ring that used cryptocurrencies including bitcoin to launder drug money through a Finnish cryptocurrency exchange.
The operation, dubbed Tulipan Blanca, saw authorities from Spain, Finland, the U.S.A and Europol arrest eleven individuals related to an organized crime ring that saw drug money laundered from Spain to Colombia using credit cards and several cryptocurrencies, a statement revealed.
A total of 136 individuals were investigated in the criminal ring whereby, initially, drug money was split into small quantities deposited as cash in hundreds of bank accounts.
Criminals then acquired credit cards linked to these bank accounts before traveling to Colombia with it to make cash withdrawals from the bank accounts using those credit cards.
A total of 175 bank accounts were used with deposits over €8 million in funds between them. It wasn’t long before the criminals turned to cryptocurrencies, according to the statement.
An excerpt from the statement revealed:
Once the criminals realized that cash withdrawals and bank operations were easy to track, they changed their laundering methods and turned to cryptocurrencies, particularly bitcoin.
The investigation, which saw guidance from Finnish law enforcement, revealed that the criminals had used an unnamed local cryptocurrency exchange to convert their cash into bitcoins before subsequently converting them to Colombian pesos.
Europol, the European Union’s criminal intelligence agency, established a working group alongside Interpol to combat money laundering through cryptocurrencies last year. With its announcement this week, the agency emphasized it would continue to fight against criminal elements using cryptocurrencies.
“With cryptocurrencies increasingly used to finance and carry out criminal activities Europol will continue to coordinate across E.U Member States and beyond, to effectively respond to this rising threat,” the agency said. “Europol has organized specialized training courses to assist law enforcement officers in identifying the use of cryptocurrencies by organised crime networks.”