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From human smuggling to money laundering

In 2016, FIU-Netherlands analysts developed a method to detect money flows that can be linked to the smuggling of refugees from Syria and Iraq to northern and western Europe. With the aid of this method, the analysts traced a Syrian refugee who lives in the Netherlands. The process started with 32 transfers of small sums of money to the Middle East and to countries that dealt with the initial reception of refugees. But new transactions involving much more money were soon discovered. The Syrian made more than 100 cash transactions to a total sum of many millions of euros, while he was living on benefits. A financial team of the Dutch Central Investigations Division set to work. It turned out that initially, the Syrian had indeed been involved in human smuggling, but had switched completely to a more lucrative business. He was part of an organization that is held responsible for laundering at least a billion euro, as criminal investigation, many arrests, searches, and seizures have shown. A VAT fraud scheme had been set up, involving the purchase of young second-hand cars paid for in cash, followed by their export. Over six years’ time, this scheme involved about 200 million euro. It was not legally required to trace the origin of the cash used to buy the cars, but there were clear indications that the funds were of criminal origin. A year and a half of investigation resulted in raids and arrests at several companies, during which not just cars, but also firearms were seized. This investigative stage was also the time that the police spotted a meeting between the owner of a car dealership and another person. The meeting took place at a roadside restaurant, just across the border in Germany. The dealer was in intercepted on his way back, and 323,000 euro in cash was found in a hidden compartment in his car. But the financial investigation team dealt the largest blow on 1 July 2019. Four raids of car dealerships at various locations in the Netherlands resulted in the seizure of 571 cars, 900,000 euro in cash, real estate, and money from 25 bank accounts. The investigation showed that the main car dealership had deposited twenty million euro in cash, including nearly ten million 500 euro bank notes. Eventually, it turned out that the Syrian with whom the investigation had initially started was no more than an active straw man of the larger criminal organization. By now, he has been sentenced to 20 months' imprisonment for money laundering. The prosecution of the main suspects is in full swing.