European law enforcement agency Europol has taken down a criminal network allegedly using cryptocurrency to launder drug money.
On Monday, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) announced that it had arrested 11 people and identified 137 suspects potentially involved in a criminal network utilizing cryptocurrencies and credit cards to launder money from illegal drug sales.
According to reports, Europol’s operation has been named Tulipan Blanca was carried out by the Spanish security forces, which received additional support from Finland and the US Homeland Security Department. Stated Europol:
As a result of the operation the Spanish Guardia Civil carried out eight searches and seized several computers, devices and the equipment used to commit the crimes, such as money bags or money counting machines … The investigation shows that the suspects deposited more than EUR 8 million in cash using 174 bank accounts.
Europol also claimed that its investigation revealed that the alleged criminals used bitcoin to launder money, citing its increased difficulty in terms of tracking funds. However, bitcoin is actually fairly easily tracked compared to other, privacy-focused digital currencies like Monero — and Europol had little difficulty acquiring all the information it needed. Noted the agency:
The police officers were able to find that the local bitcoin exchange was based in Finland and gathered all the information on the suspects held by the cryptocurrency exchange. The criminals used the exchange to convert their illicit proceeds into bitcoins, then change the cryptocurrency into Colombian pesos and deposit it into Colombian bank accounts on the same day.
The successful carrying out of Tulipan Blanca illustrates Europol’s continued effort to eradicate the use of cryptocurrencies for illegal activities. According to the agency, three to four billion pounds ($4.1 to $5.5 billion) of criminal money is currently being laundered using cryptocurrency in Europe alone.
Europol’s job may get tougher, however, as more individuals looking to utilize cryptocurrencies for illegal activities are shying away from the not-particularly-private bitcoin and, instead, turning to more privacy-focused, anonymizing cryptocurrencies like Monero, ZCash, and Dash.