Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Massive anti-money laundering operation finds €25 million cash in one home

Álvaro López Tardón
SPAIN/USA (Agencies) In a joint operation between Spain's National Police and the FBI, 21 people have been taken into custody accused of being part of a money laundering network. Part of the investigation found a total of €25 million in cash in two hideaways in the same house in Madrid. It is the largest amount of money ever seized in a single house search, according to the Ministry of the Interior. Among those detained is the alleged head of the gang, Álvaro López Tardón, 36, who is well known to Spanish justice, principally because in the 1990s he was the boss of a gang known as Los Miami, although he supposedly transformed into a 'broker' to finance drug deals among dealers in Spain with connections to Colombian cartels. López Tardón was arrested on July 14 at his home in Miami, where he lived in luxury with the money reaching him from his gang: €18,373 million, according to the FBI. As U.S. authorities tell it,>>>

cocaine was smuggled in multihundred-kilogram quantities from Colombia to Spain, where it was processed and sold. The proceeds were then sent to López Tardón, who would allegedly launder the money with the help of at least two co-conspirators.

Tardón is thought to have received more than $26 million (€18,373 million) in drug proceeds from Spain between 2004 and the present, the attorney's office said in a statement.

Among the group's favorite ways to launder money was through the purchase and sale of real estate and luxury cars, authorities said. They seized 21 properties in Spain, four in the United States and 60 cars, including one thought to be worth more than $2.8 million (€1,978 million).

Spanish police said they also seized some $35 million (€25 million) in cash, kept in 50-, 100- and 200-euro bills, in Madrid. "From the beaches of Miami to the shores of Spain, the fight against crime has no boundaries," said Special Agent in Charge John V. Gillies of the FBI Miami Division in a statement. "This is another outstanding example of an international partnership, this time with the Spanish National Police, that disrupted a major drug organization."

Another detainee is his brother Artemio, also formerly of the Miami gang, at whose home the Police discovered the €25 million in two hiedouts. One of them was under Artemio's own bed, sealed under a layer of 20 cms of concrete under the floor tiles. Police specialists needed 16 to check through the whole house.

Another five million were hidden in a camouflaged hole in the house's elevator shaft. And there was another €400.000 left unhidden.

Money isn't the whole story
Aside from the enormous amount of cash, some 60 high-end vehicles were seized in the operation. These include Rolls Royce, Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Aston Martin and Mercedes that were bought and sold via three different companies: The Collection Exotic Cars S.L., Kyte Schooll S.L. and Vanuklun. Artemio was registered as the head of the first two companies, while family and friends were supposedly the owners of the cars. The gang had lately become more sophisticated in their laundering operations, using registered companies in India - one of the detainees is of that nationality.

Other items taken in the raids include valuable jewelry and watches, gold ingots, precious stones, pearls and five guns. Aside from that, there are 25 properties involved, in Spain and the US, valued at €75 million, plus the three companies mentioned above.

Operation Amapola, which has allowed the authorities to dismantle the network, began two years ago, although it came to a head on January 7 this year, when Ana María Cameno, a Madrid jeweler supposedly getting into the drug trade at the time, was caught setting up a large cocaine processing lab some 50 kms from Madrid. Documents seized in that operation confirmed that Álvaro, who lived in Miami but travelled sporadically to Spain under false names, was the financier behind such illicit activities.

"He never touched the drug," said a police official involved in the operation, "He was at another level." In fact, it is calculated that the López Tardón network reaped benefits to the tune of €58 million in 2010 alone.

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