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Breaking the Network: Joint Operation Dismantles Transcontinental Criminal Syndicate

A significant breakthrough in the global fight against organized crime has been achieved with the apprehension of 20 individuals involved in an intercontinental criminal network engaged in drug trafficking and money laundering. The operation, conducted on March 6th and 7th in Spain and Portugal, represents a significant blow to the illicit activities of this sophisticated syndicate, which had laundered over EUR 10 million using stolen identities from Colombia, Portugal, Spain, and Venezuela.

Breaking the Network: Joint Operation Dismantles Transcontinental Criminal Syndicate

The successful crackdown was the culmination of a meticulous and long-running investigation led by the Spanish Police and Spanish Regional Catalan Police, with crucial support from Europol and Portuguese authorities. This joint effort underscores the importance of international cooperation in combatting transnational crime networks. During the operation, law enforcement officers executed 13 searches, resulting in the seizure of a substantial amount of illicit proceeds, including EUR 156,000 in cash, gold bars worth EUR 35,000, a fleet of over 50 vehicles, valuable jewelry, luxury watches valued at EUR 500,000, electronic devices, and a weapon. Additionally, authorities blocked more than 100 bank accounts and 10 real estate properties valued at over EUR 3 million.


Europol played a pivotal role in the investigation, providing operational analysis, technical expertise, and operational coordination since September 2021. The deployment of a mobile office with a money laundering specialist during the operation days exemplifies the agency's commitment to supporting member states in dismantling sophisticated criminal networks.


The genesis of the investigation can be traced back to 2018 when law enforcement authorities seized a massive shipment of 1,400 kilos of cocaine concealed in a shipment from Brazil at the facilities of a company in Sant Boi de Llobregat, Barcelona. Subsequent operations led to the arrest of several members of the drug trafficking network in 2019 and 2020. With Europol's assistance, authorities uncovered the international dimensions of the drug distribution operation, which extended beyond Spain to other European Union countries.



The criminal network employed a range of sophisticated techniques to launder illicit proceeds and evade detection. These included the utilization of money mules to divide large sums of cash into smaller transactions, known as 'smurfing,' as well as injecting funds into a network of front companies controlled by the syndicate. Moreover, the criminals utilized individuals as frontmen to register ownership of assets in South America and employed vehicles equipped with hidden compartments to transfer cash discreetly along the route from Barcelona to Madrid to Lisbon.


The dismantling of the criminal organization represents a significant victory for law enforcement authorities, marking the culmination of an extensive eight-year-long investigation. Coordinated efforts by Spanish and Portuguese authorities across multiple jurisdictions led to the arrest of key members of the syndicate and the blocking of their illicit assets. While seven of the arrested individuals have already been imprisoned, others await trial in Venezuela, Portugal, and Spain. The ongoing nature of the operation suggests the possibility of further arrests in the future, as law enforcement agencies continue their relentless pursuit of justice.


Participating authorities in the operation include the Portuguese Judicial Police (Policia Judiciária), Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), and Spanish Regional Catalan Police (Mossos d'Esquadra), with support from Europol, Eurojust, and INTERPOL. The collaborative efforts of these agencies underscore the importance of international cooperation in combatting organized crime and safeguarding communities from the harmful activities of criminal syndicates.



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