Over 100 Arrested in Gang That Scammed Millions, Laundered Money to Mafia in Europe

In Europe, 106 people have been arrested for belonging to a gang linked to the Italian mafia that allegedly scammed people out of millions of euros online, participated in drug trafficking, and laundered money.

The gang members were mostly Italian nationals and a majority of the arrests took place on the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife, the European law enforcement agency Europol said in a statement on Monday.

The highly organized criminal network largely targeted other Italians and contained computer experts, recruiters and organizers, and experts in both money laundering and cryptocurrencies.

"The suspects defrauded hundreds of victims through phishing attacks and other types of online fraud such as SIM swapping and business email compromise before laundering the money through a wide network of money mules and shell companies," according to Europol.

The gang members tricked victims into sending large sums of money to Spanish bank accounts that were controlled by the gang. That money would then be laundered through cryptocurrency purchases or used for other criminal activities including prostitution, trafficking drugs and firearms, said police.

Italian police
Gang members linked to the Italian mafia were arrested for money laundering and scamming millions of euros, Spanish and Italian police said Monday. Here, an Italian police patrol in a police car on April 12, 2021, in Florence, Italy. Paolo Lo Debole/Getty Images

In order to obtain money from businesses and individuals, members of the gang often used violence to intimidate victims and successfully infiltrated several banks and law firms.

Spanish police said on one occasion, gang members kidnapped a woman at gunpoint and forced her to steal money from an ATM and open 50 online bank accounts for the organization. Later, when she was arrested, the suspects threatened her to prevent her from testifying against them.

"The extreme violence of this group also manifested itself in other criminal actions," the Policía Nacional said in a statement. "They beat up, robbed, and extorted members of the organization who deviated from their rules, as well as other people or companies in Tenerife."

The investigation into the fraudsters was conducted by Spanish police, Italian police, Europol and Eurojust. During the operation, officers raided 16 houses, froze 118 bank accounts, and seized 224 credit cards and a marijuana plantation. Twenty of those arrested were sent to jail pending a judicial investigation, including 18 in Spain and two in Italy, Reuters reported.

In the last year alone, the gang is believed to have made €10 million, or $11.7 million USD, in profit.

The investigation into the gang began last summer when Spanish police began looking into a group of people on Tenerife who were linked to different Italian mafia clans, according to Spanish police.

"[Their] mission was to launder the money obtained through multiple computer crimes committed in Spain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom," Policía Nacional said in a statement.