106 members of the Italian mafia have been arrested in a joint law enforcement operation between Europol, Spanish and Italian police for money laundering as well as cybercrime-related activities. The joint law enforcement operation, named ‘Fontana Almabahia’, led to the arrest of the suspects last week on the island of Tenerife, in Spain’s Canary Islands.
It has been reported that the members of the group primarily focused on cybercrime-related activities, with authorities describing them as “have a high degree of technicality”. The group of Italian mafia members focused on SIM swapping attacks, phishing, and vishing in order to breach the networks and servers of various companies to either steal funds or trick employees into sending payments to the wrong accounts in a scheme called business email compromise (BEC) scams or “CEO fraud”.
Most of the targeted companies were based out of Italy, but the group also scammed companies from countries such as Spain, Germany, the UK, Lithuania, and Ireland. According to the statement by Europol, the group laundered the stolen money through various “money mules and shell companies” with last year’s illegal profits alone amounting to approximately $11.7 million (€10 million).
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Fugitives of the Italian Neapolitan mafia
According to the Policia Nacional, the investigation was started in June 2020 when it was first detected that a group consisting of members from different Italian mafia clans were settled on the Canary Islands. It was stated that their “mission” was to launder the money obtained from multiple cybercrime activities against companies from the aforementioned countries. The group received the money in controlled bank accounts and laundered it through their own shell companies or in crypto-assets.
It has been reported that the members of this group were mainly linked to 4 Italian mafia organizations – Camorra Napolitana, Nuvoletta, Casamonica, and Sacra Corona Unita. The leaders were members of the Italian Neapolitan mafia who supervised operations by travelling regularly to the Canary Islands.
“…the leadership of this criminal organization stood as a real criminal pyramid structure and directed a whole network of recruiters and hundreds of financial intermediaries, known as ‘mules’, who, although they positioned themselves in the lowest places of the organization, was an indispensable link in the complex gear of money laundering. This group of criminals had managed to settle and enter different levels of society: business networks, law firms and banks, among others.”via statement issued by Spanish police (Policia Nacional)
The exact details of the arrest of members of the group and seizure of assets include:
- 106 arrests, mostly from Spain with a few in Italy
- 16 residences searched
- 118 bank accounts frozen
- List of seized items include 224 credit cards, many electronic devices and SIM cards, and a marijuana plantation with 402 plants along with equipment for its cultivation and distribution.
It is safe to say that these arrests prove a much-debated link between criminal organizations like the Italian mafia clans and cybercrime, especially in a time where the whole cybercrime ecosystem has sadly been thriving.