Bitcoin ATMs help criminal money laundering, say Spanish police

13 Jul, 2019
by David Robb
Opinion
Bitcoin ATMs help criminal money laundering, say Spanish police

Spanish authorities have criticized the proliferation of Bitcoin ATMs. Bloomberg reports that law enforcement officials in Spain are facing more and more cases of the crypto terminals being used by criminals to launder money.

Although the Bitcoin price has fluctuated greatly over the past few years, the number of ATMs that process BTC as well as other cryptos has continued to increase. There are now over 5,400 crypto ATMs worldwide, and this is seen as positive omen pointing towards the eventual mainstream adoption that many in the crypto community are anticipating.

89 of these ATMs are in Spain, which ranks fifth worldwide for crypto ATM adoption, behind the UK, Austria, Canada, and the U.S. (which leads the way with 3,321). Owners of crypto ATMs are not forced to comply with anti-money laundering regulations, and it appears that criminals based in Spain have been using them regularly as a way to disguise the paper trail of their illicit activities, by converting their fiat into BTC.

One major money laundering operation was taken down by the Spanish Civil Guard back in May. Eight individuals from Spain and Latin America were arrested, for allegedly using nine different companies to transfer over 9 million Euros ($10 million) to drug traffickers in Colombia and other countries.

The gang used a Madrid office as a front, posing as a crypto trading operation. They installed 2 crypto ATMs in the office, and would deposit money and transfer cash to the trading platform operating the ATMs, to exchange for BTC, which would then be sent to the traffickers in order to cash out clean, untraceable money.

The authorities have seized the 2 ATMs involved with the operation, as well as four crypto cold storage devices and 20 software wallets. They are now attempting to prove a link between the ATMs and the money that has been confiscated, which is proving to be difficult due to the lack of legal clarity in Spain regarding the crypto space.

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