It all started with a gym bag: In a major raid involving more than 1,400 officers, the police in three federal states took action against an international network that is said to have shifted 140 million euros abroad and back. The investigators classify the so-called hawala banking network as a criminal organization and are investigating 67 suspects.
Eleven of them were arrested on Wednesday. The North Rhine-Westphalian Minister of Justice Peter Biesenbach spoke of a “bang” against organized crime. The money laundering network had used a “justice of the peace” with a dubious past: The 39-year-old Syrian from Wuppertal is said to be a terrorist from the Islamist Al-Nusra front. The man brought his combat troops with him from Syria and used them as a debt collection thugs.
If money was lost in so-called hawala banking, in which pots of money are offset against each other via WhatsApp, a catalog of sanctions threatened, as the investigators could overhear during covert measures: “Hit the first time, mutilate the second time, and the third time they should be killed. “
Two other suspects are known to be Islamist threats, four as so-called “relevant persons” on the Islamist spectrum. The investigators suspect that part of the money transferred was used to finance terrorism.
The money is said to have flowed to Turkey and Syria through payment offices in Germany and the Netherlands. A court issued property arrests in the amount of 140 million euros, the lion’s share of it against the two main accused: two so-called “Groß-Hawaladare”, 42 and 44-year-old Syrians, who lived in Düsseldorf and Mönchengladbach.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Bremen, 85 properties in 25 cities were searched: apartments, offices and banks. The focus of the measures was North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Herbert Reul spoke of one of the largest proceedings of his term in office to date. “We turned off an extremely rich cash tap today,” said Reul. “That was a bloody fat thing.”
Two Lamborghinis, a Porsche, a Harley Davidson, money in the millions and gold worth a total of more than three million euros were secured – and a stereo system worth at least 100,000 euros, according to the investigators. The accused are accused of other acts across the criminal code: hostage-taking, robbery, drug trafficking, professional gang fraud.
The 67 suspects are predominantly Syrians (44), but among them are also ten Germans, five Jordanians and four Lebanese. The investigators counted a total of eight different nationalities. The suspects are between 18 and 67 years old. Most of the Syrians came to Germany in 2015. Hawala banking is said to have been in operation from 2016. 80 percent of the suspects are recipients of social benefits. They now face up to 15 years imprisonment, depending on the allegation.
In order to balance the flow of money from Europe to the Middle East, the hawala bankers had also made use of well-known German companies and corporations. Their bills were also traded via hawala banking and paid by third-party companies in Germany. Whether this happened with or without the knowledge of the company is now being examined.
In some cases, only refugees have transferred small amounts to their relatives in Syria. The suspects are said to have laundered large sums of money from criminal offenses with the illegal payment service and made them available for further criminal offenses. They are also accused of social security fraud, social security fraud and tax evasion. They would have helped each other in covering up these acts.
Investigators came across a huge area with used trucks and warehouses full of presumably stolen catalytic converters to be sold by the tax office and customs in the Middle of Easter. “The truck trade was nowhere registered as a company,” said a senior investigator.
Special forces, state guards, financial investigators and tax investigators were among the more than 1,400 emergency services on Wednesday. The starting point was a driving mishap in May 2020. A car had left the A61 lane. Because the inmates behaved suspiciously, the officers became suspicious and discovered 300,000 euros in a gym bag. Justice Minister Biesenbach confirmed that this got the investigation rolling.