A prominent member of the Kinahan cartel and one of Europe's greatest money launderers was detained and prosecuted in Spain.
As part of a global assault on the Dubai-based cartel, US officials earlier this year imposed sanctions on Irishman Johnny Morrissey, age 62. He is charged with launder 200 million euros in just 18 months.
With 11 property searches conducted in both countries, two of his accomplices were also detained in Spain and one in the UK.
Morrissey and "his associates," according to Europol, were responsible of obtaining substantial sums of money from criminal organizations to "deliver" to other criminal organizations in other countries.
The money was transmitted through the informal hawala underground banking system, which avoids the actual movement of any real money.
"During the course of the investigation (1.5 years), it is believed that the suspects have laundered over EUR 200 million using this method. The scope of activity of this criminal organisation is worldwide," according to Europol.
To hide the source of their income, the principal members of the organization in Spain established a brand of vodka that was sold at nightclubs and restaurants along the Costa del Sol.
In order to conceal the real identities of the administrators of the firms that were being used to exploit the hawala system to launder the unlawful proceeds, they also formed a company in the UK that was dependant on another company situated in Gibraltar.
One of the detained suspects managed a car dealership and was in charge of giving the criminal enterprise automobiles, which he had outfitted with covert compartments to enable him to carry significant sums of money covertly.
Morrissey, who is now charged with money laundering, was one of seven individuals listed in the sanctions by the US Department of the Treasury in April, along with cartel founder Christy Kinahan and his sons Daniel and Christopher Jnr.
In an operation on the Costa del Sol in Spain on Monday, Morrissey was the first of the seven people detained.
"One of the suspects arrested ran a car dealership and was in charge of providing vehicles to the criminal organisation in which he had built concealed compartments to transport the large amounts of cash undetected," said Europol.
The money laundering detention is considered important and a sign of advancement in the transatlantic probe into the cartel.
The operation that resulted in the three arrests involved officers from the Spanish Civil Guard, the US Drug Enforcement Agency, the national police of Ireland, An Garda Siochan (AGS), and the National Crime Agency (NCA) of the United Kingdom.
Morrissey "worked for the [cartel] for several years, including as an enforcer," the US Treasury claims. He was "involved in money laundering" and "facilitates international drug shipments for the organization from South America."
He was also allegedly the owner or controller of Nero Drinks Company Ltd, a Scottish company that offers high-end alcoholic beverages and is one of the three businesses that are now on the US sanctions list.
Morrissey, who has recently resided in the Malaga region, "gave a significant portion of the business to Daniel Kinahan to compensate for loads of drugs seized by law enforcement," the agency said.
Morrissey allegedly controlled the company through his wife, who was the major stakeholder and "is used as a frontperson for his interests."
The office of foreign assets control must be notified of all property and interests in property belonging to the designated individuals or entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons, according to the department, as a result of the action taken against the individuals and companies named in the sanctions.
According to a statement from Europol, the investigation was started by the Spanish Guardia Civil at the beginning of 2021 following a sequence of events that resulted in the discovery of 200 kilograms of cocaine and €500 000 in cash stashed within the gang's cars with secret compartments.
Due of the case's global scope, Europol was contacted right away. Since then, the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre of Europol has been offering operational and analytical support, helping to confirm linkages with other nations and uncovering new connections to broaden the operation.
Europol organized a series of operational gatherings to get the national investigators together to plan the action day. Since then, Europol has continuously developed information to assist the field investigators.
On the day of the action, Europol financial analysts and specialists who had been sent to Spain to aid in the investigation offered on-the-spot help.
With the help of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats, this research was funded (EMPACT).
By fLEXI tEAM