Chinese mob suspects questioned in Spain
Agence France-Presse in Madrid
A Spanish judge on Wednesday questioned suspects arrested in a massive crackdown on Chinese gangs suspected of laundering hundreds of millions of euros.
Prosecutors called for bail payments of between 40,000 and 100,000 euros (up to US$131,000) for the eight suspects questioned so far, court sources said, as the first hearings carried on into Wednesday night.
Police arrested 83 people in total, of whom more than 58 were Chinese and 17 Spanish, in a series of raids on Tuesday, national police director Ignacio Cosido told reporters.
Among those arrested on Tuesday was Chinese businessman and gallery owner Gao Ping, who is one of the network’s suspected leaders, Spanish porn star Nacho Vidal and Jose Borras, a town councillor from Fuenlabrada in southern Madrid.
One suspect was detained in Germany and more arrests could be made outside of Spain in the coming days as the operation remains open, Cosido added.
“We are talking about a historic operation, a very important operation in the fight against economic delinquency,” he said.
Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said in televised comments that there were more arrests to come.
More than 500 police took part in the crackdown dubbed Operation Emperor. They seized 10 million euros (HK$100 million) in cash in raids across the country over the past two days as well as some 200 vehicles, guns, jewels and works of art.
The authorities also froze the bank accounts of more than 120 people.
The first eight questioned on Wednesday were all Spanish and included a lawyer, for whom prosecutors demanded 100,000 euros bail, and an employee of a bank, court sources said.
One suspect was freed after going before the judge while the others were kept in custody pending a bail ruling.
Eleven other suspects were waiting to go before the judge in the first batch of hearings, after arriving in police vans earlier in the day.
The investigation began in 2009 and focused on the Cobo Calleja industrial zone in Fuenlabrada, considered the biggest Chinese wholesale hub in Europe.
The zone is a source of cheap goods imported from China and sells shoes, clothes, jewellery and other wholesale goods, distributing them across Europe.
“This has been a very long operation, an operation that demanded a lot of work,” said Cosido.
Spanish prosecutors said the racket was made up of traders who sold contraband goods in Spain, laundered the money and dispatched it to China by train and car, using front companies such as karaoke bars and restaurants.
The gang is also suspected of channelling money from rackets involving prostitution and extortion to tax havens with the help of Spanish and Israeli intermediaries.
The network laundered between 200 and 300 million euros a year by dodging taxes, bribing officials and forging documents, top anti-corruption prosecutor Antonio Salinas said on Tuesday.
Gao reportedly owns warehouses in Cobo Calleja and a contemporary art gallery in Madrid near the Queen Sofia Museum.
Vidal, an international porn star credited in titles such as Sexcapades, ran a company suspected of taking part in the money-laundering, judicial officials said.
Chinese firms in the Cobo Calleja industrial zone officially do some 870 million euros in trade a year, according to the town hall in Fuenlabrada.
Of the 800 businesses there, nearly 400 are Chinese-run, employing 3,000 of the total 10,000 people working in the area.