Europol Busts Cryptocurrency Drug Money Laundering Ring

A joint operation between global law enforcement agencies and Europol has put an end to a criminal ring that used cryptocurrencies including bitcoin to launder drug money through a Finnish crypto exchange.

The operation, dubbed Tulipan Blanca, saw authorities from Finland, Spain, the United States and Europol arrest 11 individuals related to an organized crime ring that saw drug money laundered from Spain to Colombia using credit cards and several cryptocurrencies, a statement revealed.

A total of 137 individuals were investigated in the criminal ring wherein, initially, drug money was split into small quantities deposited as cash in hundreds of bank accounts. Criminals then acquired credit cards linked to these bank accounts before traveling to Colombia with to make cash withdrawals from the bank accounts using those cards.

A total of 174 bank accounts were used, the investigation revealed, with deposits over €8 million in cash between them. It wasn’t long before the criminals turned to cryptocurrencies, according to the statement.

An excerpt from the statement revealed:

Once the criminals realised that cash withdrawals and bank operations were easy to track, they changed their laundering methods and turned to cryptocurrencies, mainly bitcoin.

The investigation, which saw guidance from Finnish law enforcement, revealed that the criminals had used an unnamed local cryptocurrency exchange to convert their cash into bitcoins before subsequently converting them to Colombian pesos.

Europol, the European Union’s criminal intelligence agency, established a working group alongside Interpol to combat money laundering through cryptocurrencies, last year. With its announcement this week, the agency stressed it would continue to fight against criminal elements using (abusing) cryptocurrencies.

“With cryptocurrencies increasingly used to finance and carry out criminal activities, Europol will continue to coordinate across EU Member States and beyond, to effectively respond to this rising threat,” the agency said. “Europol has organised specialised training courses to assist law enforcement officers in identifying the use of cryptocurrencies by organised crime networks.”