OPERATION “THE LAST EMPEROR”
In July 2005 the DIA dismantled a criminal organization composed, among others, of Chinese nationals and engaged in laundering huge amounts of money generated from smuggling goods into the EU market and other serious offences. These proceeds were either transferred to China or invested in Italy in the purchase of real estate properties in Rome.
On 1 July 2005, the investigation led the Operational Centre of Rome to execute nine preventive custody orders against nine people, some of whom of Chinese nationality, suspected of membership of a criminal association involved in the illegal exercise of financial activities and laundering huge amounts of money generated from criminal activities, in this case obtained from smuggling goods into the EU market, selling products with counterfeit trademarks, falsification of documents and tax evasion.
The warehouses used to store the goods imported from China and the offices of the bank used to illegally transfer the money were searched and bank accounts were seized along with tons of counterfeit goods imported illegally and €500,000 in cash.
The criminal organization was engaged in introducing goods onto the domestic market whose certificates of origin and shipping documents were falsified in order to evade taxes and tariffs on trade and import quota restrictions imposed in the EU market.
The considerable profits generated by this type of underground economy were then transferred to bank accounts through a trust company which met none of the legal requirements for administering financial assets and from there they were reintroduced into China using the international SWIFT network.
It was established that, over little more than 18 months, the €95 million received by the trust company in cash were paid into current accounts in China.
These proceeds of crime were used in part to purchase luxury real estate properties in the centre of Rome and buildings for industrial and commercial use.
Complex investigations, including those of a technical nature, coordinated by the Anti-Mafia Public Prosecutor’s Office in Rome led to the identification of Chinese clients who, inter alia, hired a consulting firm to look after their financial books and records. The consulting firm not only manipulated financial statements and payment records, but it also provided assistance in obtaining fake residence permits by falsifying the documents required by the issuing authorities.
A key role was played by a trust company based in Rome that allowed its clients to keep their identities hidden and to funnel huge amounts of money without arousing any suspicion.
This investigation also established that most goods illegally introduced to the EU passing through Italian ports were then sold throughout the EU without paying any customs duties.
Finally, another laundering channel was identified. Loans and financing were obtained on the basis of guarantees provided by the trust company and fraudulent documents giving a misleading picture of the applicant’s tax and financial situation. The money thus obtained was invested in residential and commercial properties in Italy.