A major customs operation revealed the illegal movement of cash in the amount of 18 million euros, potentially related to money laundering, criminal activity and terrorist financing, the “Customs” Agency announced on Monday.
The international operation BELENOS led to the detection of around 400 cases of illicit accompanied and unaccompanied cash flows, mostly in air transport (77.6%), road transport (18%), sea transport (3%) and postal shipments (0.6%) .
Customs authorities reported at least 64 cases with potential links to money laundering of around €3 million and another 20 cases of potential links to sanctions against Russia stemming from its aggression against Ukraine, worth around €180,000 . In another 34 cases, for amounts below 10,000 euros, suspicions of a connection with criminal activity have arisen. Nearly 420 individuals are involved in the cases.
Other violations found by the customs authorities were 6.5 kilograms of ecstasy, 4 kilograms of methamphetamine and counterfeit banknotes in the amount of 25,500 euros.
More than 330 administrative or judicial investigations have been launched based on the results achieved during Operation BELENOS. Checks are ongoing, customs said.
In Bulgaria, during the operation, 7 cases were found in which the obligation to declare cash in the amount of more than 600,000 euros was not fulfilled. In 3 other cases, for the amount of 2.2 million euros, questionable data were found and an additional check was carried out.
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has played a key role in the joint customs operation, providing financial, analytical, technical and logistical support, including the use of the Virtual Coordination of Operations (VOCU) application, to enable secure exchange of information during the operation.
The Directorate General “Taxation and Customs Union” of the EC has shared its expertise regarding the implementation of Regulation (EU) 2018/1672 of October 23, 2018 regarding the control of cash that is imported into or exported from the Union. Europol has carried out checks in its databases, which have enabled the identification of potential criminal links. In addition, Operation BELENOS has led to increased cooperation between customs, financial intelligence, tax, police and prosecution authorities.
OLAF Director General Ville Itala commented that “sharing intelligence and connecting the dots is essential to stop cross-border illegal schemes and movements. OLAF is aware of this as we have been fighting smugglers and cross-border fraud for many years. For Operation BELENOS, we made our tools and expertise available to colleagues in national authorities fighting illicit cash flows.”
Operation BELENOS is led by the French customs authorities in cooperation with the Spanish customs authorities and Europol and with the support of the European Commission (OLAF and DG TAXUD). It was held in the period from November 28 to December 11, 2022 in 25 EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
Operation BELENOS aimed to control the movement of accompanied and unaccompanied (shipped, mailed or couriered) cash of a value of €10,000 or more entering or leaving the EU in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2018/1672. In addition, some participating countries have carried out risk-based checks on the movement of cash within the EU in accordance with their national legislation and policies.