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Between Milan and Amsterdam, laundering drug money with art trade

An operation across Italy, Spain and the Netherlands resulted in arrests for alleged use of art trade to launder profits from drug trafficking.

A man handling cash allegedly coming from drug trafficking
A man handling cash allegedly involved in drug money laundering with art trade | Italian national police, Twitter

Initiated in Italy, the operation led to the arrests of 31 people, according to the Italian national police. They are suspected to be connected for various reasons in organized crime with drugs sold in Italy.

Cocaine came from Latin America to Dutch ports, ketamine came from Lithuania and the Netherlands, and cannabis was smuggled from North Africa through Spain.

A modern art gallery in Amsterdam, ART3035 gallery according to Italian news media, has been searched as traffickers are suspected to launder drug profits through art by buying paintings or other art works and issuing fake invoices.

A total of 47 locations were searched according to Eurojust, the European Union agency for criminal justice cooperation, where about 150,000 euros ($158,000) in cash and 150 kilos of illicit drugs were seized in an operation carried out on May 11 that led to 24 arrests.

It all started in 2019 when the Milan police identified a local network of drug trafficking run by two Milanese restaurant owners. It led to an important drug dealer connected to organized crime in Campania, Puglia and Albania, according to the news agency Ansa.

Traffickers used encrypted messaging services like EncroChat and SkyECC. Dismantling them made the organization more vulnerable. They would use nicknames like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Pinocchio. The owner of the ART3035 gallery, who is currently being searched for by authorities, was a specialist of Banksy’s art works. His nickname in the messages was Banksy.

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