Police in Spain have dismantled a transnational Colombia-led criminal network responsible for laundering around $7 million in drug money, underlining the European nation's strategic importance to Latin American groups for drug trafficking and money laundering.
Spain's Civil Guard and national police reported the arrests in Alicante and Madrid of four Colombians, three Spaniards, one Venezuelan and one Peruvian belonging to a ring that laundered illicit drug trafficking proceeds.
The network was allegedly led by the Colombian who officials reported had strong ties to major drug cartels in his home country. Its members also included the manager of a bank -- who was responsible for ensuring transactions were not investigated by anti-money laundering authorities -- and real estate agents.
According to authorities, the dirty money was "washed" by investing it in front companies and businesses with financial problems, as well as through front men who took positions of authority in companies.
During "Operation Zarco," authorities also froze 89 bank accounts and seized dozens of properties and vehicles valued at around $11.6 million, the majority belonging to front men, reported Diario Sur.
InSight Crime Analysis
Spain is the primary port of arrival for Latin American narcotics -- especially cocaine -- destined for the European market, and is an important location for laundering drug money. Another recent case linked two Spanish nationals to a Colombian network, which laundered hundreds of millions of dollars and sent the laundered drug money to organizations such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The organization was put on trial in Spain last November.
Colombian groups are the principal criminals involved in Spain's market, which has taken on an increasing appeal as Mexicans have wrested control of US routes. They are far from the only ones, though, with a major cocaine network dismantled in December last year including suspects from 15 countries -- a mark of the complex structures involved in trans-continental operations.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime
This case comes to light at the same time European officials are considering lifting visa requirements for Peruvian and Colombian nationals, a move with the potential to facilitate a deeper criminal presence if it is not handled with care.