A large customs operation has uncovered an illegal movement of cash amounting to 18 million euros, potentially related to money laundering, criminal activity and terrorist financing, the Customs Agency said.

Operation BELENOS resulted in the detection of around 400 cases of illegal accompanied and unaccompanied cash flows, mostly in air transport (77.6%), road transport (18%), sea transport (3%) and postal items (0.6%).

In particular, customs authorities found at least 64 cases where potential links to money laundering were found for about 3 million euros and another 20 cases of potential links with sanctions against Russia originating from its aggression against Ukraine, worth about 180,000 euros.

In another 34 cases, for amounts below 10,000 euros, suspicions of connection with criminal activity have arisen. Nearly 420 individuals were involved in the cases. Other infringements detected by the customs authorities witha 6.5 kilogram of ecstasy, 4 kilograms of methamphetamine and counterfeit banknotes amounting to EUR 25 500.

More than 330 administrative or judicial investigations have been initiated on the basis of the results achieved during operation BELENOS. Inspections are continuing.

In Bulgaria, during the operation, 7 cases were found in which the obligation to declare cash in the amount of over EUR 600,000 was not fulfilled. In 3 other cases, for the amount of EUR 2.2 million. suspicious data have been identified and further verification has been carried out.

The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) played a key role in this joint customs operation by providing financial, analytical, technical and logistical support, including the use of the Virtual Coordination of Operations (VOCU) application to enable secure exchange of information throughout the operation.

The European Commission's Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union shared its expertise on the application of Regulation (EU) 2018/1672 of 23 October 2018 on controls on cash entering or leaving the Union. Europol carried out checks against its databases, which allowed the identification of potential criminal links.

In addition, operation BELENOS led to increased cooperation between customs authorities, financial intelligence units, tax, police authorities and the public prosecutor's office.

OLAF Director General Ville Itala said that "intelligence sharing and pooling of points is essential to stop cross-border illegal schemes and movements.

OLAF is aware of this, as we have been fighting smugglers and cross-border fraud for many years now. For Operation BELENOS, we have put our tools and experience at the disposal of colleagues from national authorities fighting illicit cash flows."

For the operation:

Operation BELENOS was led by the French customs authorities in cooperation with the Spanish customs authorities and Europol and with the support of the European Commission (OLAF and DG TAXUD). It took place from 28 November to 11 December 2022 in 25 EU Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

BELENOS operation aimed to control the movement of accompanied and unaccompanied (shipped, mail or courier) of cash of EUR 10 000 or more entering or leaving the EU, in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2018/1672.

In addition, some participating countries carried out checks based on a risk analysis on movements of cash within the EU in accordance with their national legislation and policies.

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