Europol has carried out a series of searches in several countries, resulting in nearly a dozen arrests and the dismantling of the second largest counterfeit money operation in Europe, the European police agency announced on Monday.
Between 9 and 11 December, Europol agents carried out several operations aimed at putting an end to the sale of counterfeit banknotes on the darknet. In Germany, 27 searches were made, during which a clandestine print shop was discovered. Nine other raids were carried out in Austria, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain, Europol said. Eleven people were arrested, including the gang’s leader, the printer, distributors and buyers.
The police also discovered large amounts of counterfeit money, fake passports, computers, mobile phones and data carriers such as hard drives and USB sticks, as well as weapons, ammunition and drugs.
The investigation began after an operation carried out by the Portuguese Police in which a printing press used by the organisation to print counterfeit fifty-euro bills was seized.
The investigation into the Portuguese printing press led to the discovery of a Europe-wide network of people involved in the production, distribution and purchase of counterfeit money. According to investigators, the gang allegedly sold more than 26,000 fake bank notes, making it one of the most important groups in the sale of fake money online.
A spokeswoman for Europol told the BBC that many of the counterfeit bank notes had been sold via Wall Street Market, with buyers then trading them for cryptocurrencies, which were used to try to keep their identities hidden
Wall Street Market was taken offline by the German authorities in May, after operating for about three years.
According to the European Central Bank, about 251,000 euro banknotes were withdrawn from circulation throughout Europe in the first half of 2019, representing a decrease of 4.2 percent compared to the second half of 2018 and 16.6 percent less than in the first half of 2018. The twenty-euro and fifty-euro bills remained the most counterfeited, accounting for 80 percent of all fake bank notes in Europe.