A Greek-led criminal network that used shell companies to steal over $12 million from 50 US financial institutions has been dismantled following a cross-border strike co-ordinated by Europol.
The international operation, led by the Spanish National Police and the US Secret Service, resulted in the arrest of 105 suspects and the freezing of 87 bank accounts worth €1.3 million.
Eleven of those suspects were Greeks, who are thought to be the masterminds of the scam, as well as two Austrians, 23 Spaniards and one UK citizen.
The operation to dismantle the network was carried out in complete secrecy – hence the name of the operation,”Secreto” – and started on October 6, 2020, simultaneously in Austria, Spain, Greece and Britain.
According to Europol, the overall results of operation “Secreto” were the following:
- 105 suspects arrested
- 88 house searches
- Over €12 million in damages
- 87 accounts with more than €1.3 million frozen
- €406 000 euros seized in cash
- 14 high-end vehicles seized
- 19 European arrest warrants executed
- Handguns were also seized in the raids
How the network worked
The criminal organization set up shell companies in the US and arranged the transfer of funds to US-based accounts from different locations in the EU. With trust established, the US banks issued debit and credit cards for these accounts.
Retailers in on the scam, most of whom were in Spain, used the payment cards to finance the available credited amounts on the cards.
To launder the stolen funds, they transferred them to different bank accounts, owned by members of the criminal network located in several EU countries.
Europol facilitated the information exchange and operational coordination and provided analytical support for this eight-month-long investigation.
During the operation, Europol set up a coordination center at its headquarters, with the use of a virtual command post to enable liaison officers from the involved countries, Europol experts, and a representative from Eurojust to coordinate the operational activities.
Europol also deployed an analyst to Greece to provide real-time analytical support to investigators on the ground. The Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) at Europol supported the operation.
This standing operational team consists of cyber liaison officers from different countries who work from the same office on high profile cybercrime investigations.
The operation also involved police services from Austria, Denmark, and Greece, as well as the US Department of Justice, and the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).