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Europol’s joint investigation with French authorities has led to the dismantling of a Franco-Israeli criminals gang involved in large-scale money laundering.
The French authorities led the five-day operations that resulted in various arrests and searches in France and Israel. Eight houses were searched with the arrest of the main suspect in Israel, totalling eight arrests (two in Israel and six in France).
The various seizures made by Europol include electronic equipment and vehicles with hefty amounts from several banks accounts such as $3.3 million from a Hungarian Bank, $3.2 million from a Portuguese bank, $640,000 from a Croatian bank, $428.000 from a Spanish bank, and virtual currencies worth of $375,000. The total value estimated in seizures is almost $6 million.
The French-Israeli criminal network mainly targeted firms located in France. In December 2021, one of the suspects impersonated the CEO of a firm specialised in metallurgy, based in the department of Haute-Marne in North-eastern France. The fake CEO made several changes in the company, starting with a confidential transfer of $418,000 to a bank in Hungary. The fraud was later discovered in a few days when the accountant attempted to make a transfer of $530,000, thinking that he was acting on behalf of the company’s CEO.
The firm filed a complaint and an inquiry revealed that the call from the accused CEO came from an Israeli number.
In another case planned by the network in late December 2021, a Paris-based real estate developer fell victim to fraud. This time the damages were much more severe. The criminals impersonated lawyers to perpetrate the fraud, disguised as workers from a well-known French accounting firm. And after gaining the trust of the victim, the fraudsters requested a confidential transfer on an urgent basis. In total, they defrauded the firm of more than $40 million in a matter of days.
The fraudsters use a pre-existing money laundering scheme to move these funds to different European countries, then China and finally to Israel.
Since January 2022, Europol has facilitated the exchange of information and offered specialised financial support including expertise in crypto and financial analysis. The assistance led to the identification of links between different nations to enable the urgent seizure of criminal assets before the suspect could move them.
On action days, Europol deployed experts to France, Hungary and Israel to cross-check operational information in real-time and to provide forensic support.