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OPERATION EMPEROR

Alleged “Emperor” money-laundering kingpin imprisoned without bail

Gao Ping joins another 46 suspects denied freedom by investigating judge while awaiting trial

Gao Ping, the alleged leader of a massive Chinese-Spanish money-laundering ring that was busted last week, is to be held in custody without bail until his trial, according to judicial sources. High Court Judge Fernando Andreu on Saturday remanded the 45-year-old art dealer and importer to jail after the suspect refused to answer questions about his role in the alleged conspiracy.

Of the 84 suspects rounded up last Tuesday, Andreu has ordered 47 to be held without bail. The judge has allowed some 23 others to be released on bail, with amounts set between 6,000 and 100,000 euros.

Before Gao was taken before the High Court, his wife, Lizhen Yang, another Chinese couple, and one suspect alleged to be the businessman’s body guard, Hai Bo, also went before the investigating judge.

Gao, reportedly from Zhejiang province in northeastern China, was a high-flying member of Spain's large Chinese immigrant community, owning several businesses, including art galleries in Madrid and Beijing. He was arrested at his palatial home in the exclusive Madrid suburb of Somosaguas.

Chief anti-corruption prosecutor Antonio Salinas said last week that the suspects laundered up to 300 million euros a year, dodging taxes, bribing officials and forging documents. Other Interior Ministry officials said that Gao’s laundering activities had “distorted” the Spanish economy.

One of the high-profile suspects arrested was international porn star Nacho Vidal, 38, who was accused along with his sister of helping the ring by issuing false invoices from his movie production company. Vidal, who was released on Thursday pending charges, says he is innocent of involvement in the racket.

More than 500 police officers took part in the "Operation Emperor" and seized more than 10 million cash – 5.3 million reportedly discovered in one of Gao’s offices in Fuenlabrada – as well as 200 vehicles, guns, jewels and artworks.

José Borrás, 57, the Socialist security chief in the town of Fuenlabrada, stepped down on Friday following his arrest. Also detained were lawyer José Luis Cuervo Calvo, police inspector Miguel Ángel Gómez Gordo and an unidentified Civil Guard sergeant.

Police also announced that another suspect was arrested in Italy.

According to authorities, the ringleaders would extort Chinese businesses across Spain, force workers to wire money in their names to China, and send bundles of cash back to the Far East in containers that would return with imported goods.

Cash would also be sent with couriers to the Pyrenees tax-haven principality, Andorra, police claimed.