Germany: Police raids in 3 states target international money laundering network | News | DW | 06.10.2021

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Germany: Police raids in 3 states target international money laundering network

Police special forces units have carried out raids North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Bremen. It's thought that some illegal profits may have been channeled to finance terror activities in Syria.

Three police officers stand near a doorway

German police outside an apartment in the western city of Wuppertal during an early morning raid

More than 1,000 police and special forces officers raided homes, offices and businesses in three German states early Wednesday morning.

Officials were targeting an international money laundering network suspected to have been used to launder money. It's thought the system could have been used to clean up criminal cash, and — in some cases — to direct money to terror groups.

Long-running secret operation

The raids, at around 80 different locations in North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Bremen, were aimed at collecting evidence and seizing illegal assets. At least 11 suspects were arrested.

"That was a damn huge thing today, which was worked on for a long time and under strict secrecy," NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul said on Wednesday. 

Investigators with the public prosecutors in the western city of Düsseldorf had spent months investigating and collecting evidence against the suspected criminal gangs. 

The raids were said to have been particularly focused on that city along with nearby Wuppertal.

According to preliminary estimates, the transaction volume during the investigation period amounts to around 140 million euros

"More than 60 million euros each passed through the hands of the two main suspects alone," Reul said. The laundered money was mainly transferred to Turkey and Syria, he added.

According to preliminary estimates, the transaction volume during the investigation period was about €140 million (more than $160 million).

"More than 60 million euros each passed through the hands of the two main suspects alone," Reul said. The laundered money was mainly transferred to Turkey and Syria, he added. 

A police officer stands in a doorway

The raids were carried out at over 80 locations in three states

Dozens of suspects implicated

According to police, the large-scale operation was directed against 67 suspected members of a network that has been operating internationally since 2016.  

They allegedly provided illicit payment services and laundered funds from criminal acts.  

The majority of the 67 suspects are Syrian nationals. The remaining suspects have either German, Jordanian, Lebanese, Turkish or Ukrainian citizenship, Reul said.  

Two of the arrested suspects had previously been classified as Islamist threats. 

The suspects are also accused of wrongfully receiving social benefits, and failing to comply with social security and tax obligations. The allegations also include acts of violence such as armed robbery and hostage-taking to collect existing and alleged debts. 

Chance incident launches probe

The investigation is said to have started with a chance encounter, according to the news organization WDR.

Customs officers stepped in to help when a car was driven into a ditch at a highway exit near the German-Dutch border.

They offered to help two men who appeared slightly injured but refused any assistance. Realizing that something was wrong, they took a closer look at the car and discovered a gym bag with €300,000 (almost $350,000) inside.

One of the occupants was a Syrian national, Halid A., who was in the sights of the authorities for some time. He was already suspected of having supported "Islamic State" fighters in the Syrian province of Idlib. Until then, however, the suspicions were not enough for an arrest warrant.

Also in the vehicle was a German national, Manfred T., who, it's thought, was not on the authorities' radar. 

Officials suspect money came from the Netherlands and that it was set to be transferred by the illegal hawala transfer network. The system uses a huge number of money brokers to move cash value illegally, avoiding traditional banking and financial systems.

The investigators placed the pair under investigation and discovered they were part of a larger group collecting money from refugees in Germany to send to Turkey or Syria. Some wanted to support their families with it.