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A major customs operation, BELENOS, by the French Customs authorities, has unveiled an illicit flow of €18 million in cash heavily linked to money laundering, terrorist financing, and transnational criminal activities.
An investigation led by the French customs authorities with joint efforts with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has uncovered illicit movements of cash worth €18 million related to money laundering, terrorist financing, and transnational criminal activities throughout 25 European Union countries in two weeks.
Four hundred cases of unlawful accompanied and unaccompanied cash flows were found as a result of the significant operations; these cases were primarily related to air traffic (77.6%), automobile or car transportation (18%), marine transport (3%), and postal shipments (0.6%). Customs officials, in particular, found 34 cases involving amounts under €10,000 suspected of being connected to illegal activity and at least 64 cases involving possible connections with money laundering for approximately €3 million. There were about 420 people involved in all illicit activities across the EU. Along with other things, the customs officials discovered €25,500 worth of counterfeit money, 6.5 kilograms of ecstasy, and 4 kilograms of methamphetamine. The report stated that during operation BELENOS, over 330 judicial or administrative inquiries were opened and started. However, more investigations into the issue are still underway.
The OLAF stipulated financial, critical, technological, and logistical assistance and guidance, including using the protected Virtual Operations Coordination Unit (VOCU) implementation to enable the safe transmission of information during the operation. This allowed the joint customs operation to be carried out exceptionally well and succeeded.
The Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (DG TAXUD) of the European Commission contributed its knowledge on the application of Regulation (EU) 2018/1672 of October 23, 2018, which governs restrictions on the movement of cash into and out of the Union. Cross-checks were carried out by Europol in its databases, enabling the discovery of any illegal connections. Additionally, as a result of operation BELENOS, prosecutors, tax and police agencies, Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs), and customs authorities collaborate more closely.
Ville Itälä, OLAF Director-General, stated, “sharing intelligence and joining the dots is essential to stop cross-border illicit schemes and movements. OLAF is well placed to know that, as we have been fighting smugglers and cross-border fraud for many years now. For Operation Belenos, we put our tools and expertise at the disposal of colleagues in national authorities who fight illicit cash flows.”