Italian authorities have conducted a major operation targeting a complex web of Chinese money brokers accused of laundering more than 50 million euros ($52.5 million) on behalf of criminal organizations, including the notorious 'Ndrangheta mafia. The operation, which involved police raids across Italy, Germany, and Belgium, resulted in the arrest of 33 individuals, including seven Chinese nationals, on charges of organized criminal conspiracy for drug trafficking and money laundering.
Colonel Francesco Ruis, leading the investigation in Rome, highlighted the significant connection established between criminal entities like the 'Ndrangheta and Chinese financial service providers. He emphasized that the tracked financial movements of over 50 million euros between 2020 and 2022 likely did not capture the full scope of the criminal activity, likening it to a stakeout where only a fraction of the action is observed. Ruis stated, "This is what we have tracked from 2020 to 2022, but investigations cannot trace all operations. It’s like doing a stakeout, you see 20% of what happens."
One of the key methods employed in this money laundering operation was the use of unlicensed Chinese money brokers, often referred to as "fei qian" or "fei chien," meaning flying money. This technique involves depositing a sum with a money broker in Italy, while another agent in their network, located elsewhere in the world, ensures an equivalent amount is paid to the intended recipient. It's a method designed to conceal cross-border payments and obscure the money trail.
The illicit funds were funneled through Chinese import-export businesses specializing in clothing and fashion accessories, located in Rome's Esquilino district. These businesses acted as collection centers for the ill-gotten money, which was subsequently transferred anonymously and untraceably to China.
Importantly, the "fei chien" method didn't entail the physical transfer of money from the buyer of drug shipments to the supplier. However, China served as the final destination for the laundered cash.
Ruis explained, "The deals between the two Chinese brokers took place through triangulations and fictitious business transactions in China, while the cash traveled by plane to China using the so-called money mules."
This investigation was aided by access to encrypted chats on a platform that had been dismantled in 2021 by a Europol Joint Investigation Team. The case underscores the increasingly sophisticated techniques employed by criminal networks and the global nature of money laundering operations involving entities from different countries. Authorities continue to work diligently to combat these illicit financial activities and their ties to organized crime.
By fLEXI tEAM