More than 80 people, including a well-known porn star and a Socialist Party official, were arrested in an early morning raid on Tuesday that was launched by authorities across Spain against a money-laundering ring linked to Chinese businesses.
Magistrates issued 108 arrest warrants against the suspects and police carried out around 120 searches following the arrests. The majority of the detentions took place in Barcelona and suburbs of Madrid, as well as in the center of the capital.
Among the detainees are the pornographic actor Nacho Vidal and the Socialist security chief in Fuenlabrada, José Borrás. Most of those detained were Chinese nationals, including Gao Ping, a Madrid-based art dealer who the authorities described as the leader of the international money laundering ring.
The organization is thought to have laundered between 800 million and 1.2 billion euros in four years, prosecutors said.
During a rare news conference, Antonio Salinas, the head of the anti-corruption division at the Attorney General’s Office, said that the High Court, which is carrying out the inquiry, has frozen the bank accounts of 122 individuals and 235 businesses. Authorities have also confiscated more than 200 vehicles as well as weapons and many valuable art objects.
Salinas, who was accompanied by the secretary of state for security, Ignacio Ulloa, initially told reporters that he couldn’t release many details about the case but then immediately started providing specifics. He said that arrests in the operation — code-named Emperor — were also made in seven countries, including China. But the majority of the suspects were detained in Barcelona and Madrid.
The bulk of the charges that members of the ring will face are mostly financial crimes against the Treasury, but additional violations related to money-laundering — bribery, prostitution, extortion, illegal gambling and people and drug trafficking — are also being investigated.
Those arrested, including the nucleus of 15 close confidants of the suspected boss of the organization, Gao Ping, are accused of laundering hundreds of millions of euros.
The investigation was launched two years ago and centered on the Cobo Calleja industrial estate in Fuenlabrada, which is an epicenter of the Chinese wholesale trade in Madrid. Sites in Barcelona and Málaga were also placed under surveillance.
The system of industrial-scale fraud apparently used by the ring was simple: they imported huge loads of merchandise from China and sold them at very competitive rates to Chinese businesses in large commercial operations that escaped the attention of Customs and Excise, therefore avoiding tax. These products were then sold to wholesale establishments with the collusion of allegedly corrupt public employees.
The money obtained was then stored, in cash, in boat containers, cars and trucks — all of it destined for other illicit activities and an illegal money lending operation based on threats and extortion. Money was also sent back to China.
Investigators also uncovered other systems to clean the dirty cash, such as investments in real estate and transactions to tax havens through a series of false invoices. Porn star Nacho Vidal was arrested on suspicion of issuing these. Police also arrested the actor’s sister, María José Jordá, in Argentona, Barcelona.
Gao, who runs an art and culture foundation, is something of a celebrity among Madrid’s Chinese community and in his own country. He has been involved, among other things, in the introduction of Chinese art to Spain and Spanish art to China.
The now 45-year-old Gao has spent nearly half of his life in Madrid. His gallery Gao Magee was opened next to the Reina Sofía Museum in 2010. In Beijing, he also has art galleries and a Spanish art distribution center called Iberia. Police found Gao at his home in Madrid’s fashionable Somosaguas suburb, where he was led out handcuffed by two officers just hours before his children returned from school. Authorities also conducted a search of his Gao Magee gallery and home later on Tuesday. According to sources, investigators confiscated large quantities of cash from his residence.
Besides his commercial activities, Gao has been involved in a wide range of projects, including sponsoring a 2008 art exhibition in Fuenlabrada.