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China Does It Again: Italian Tax Police Uncovers $2 Billion Money Laundering Operation

CCP-controlled Chinese banks continue to make money through massive illegal operations in Italy.



By Massimo Introvigne

February 2, 2024


Artistic AI-generated rendering of Italian law enforcement officers showing stacks of banknotes confiscated during an anti-money-laundering operation.



More of the same. In March 2023, “Bitter Winter” published the only detailed English-language account of the “Operation Belt and Road,” a large-scale investigation of the Italian Tax Police that uncovered how mainline Chinese banks cooperated with the Italian Mafia, Colombia’s drug cartels, and Russian oligarchs close to Putin to launder at least $17 billion. As we noted, these were not simply “Chinese criminals,” as China quickly claimed, as CCP-controlled ostensibly respectable banks were at the head of the project.


The Italian Tax Police is famously persistent, and on January 25 it announced it had followed up with “Operation Fast and Clean,” uncovering another system centered on a “mainline Chinese bank” through which some 2 billion dollars were laundered in two Italian regions, Lombardy and Marche. The system was simpler than the one unmasked in Operation Belt and Road. A number of companies were incorporated in Lombardy but in fact they existed on paper only. There was nothing at the addresses indicated, except an occasional abandoned warehouse or demolished house, or the addresses did not even exist.


These false companies billed almost 2 billion dollars to Italian companies in the last two and a half years for non-existing goods and services. Once they had received the payments, they asked Chinese companies to bill them the corresponding amount for the sale of equally non-existing goods and paid to their accounts at the “mainline Chinese bank.” The latter kept a share for itself and sent back in cash the rest of the money to the Italian companies who had paid the first invoices through Chinese “messengers.” The Italian dishonest businesspeople received their money in sealed bags in Chinese restaurants, shops, or garment workshops.


A Chinese garment workshop in Italy (AI-generated).



As usual, Chinese authorities will thank Italian law enforcement for having uncovered the wrongdoings of “rogue bureaucrats” in their bank system, claiming they have been severely punished, as it happened for “Operation Belt and Road.” This is, however, not persuasive. CCP-controlled Chinese banks are closely watched and that illegal operations for billions of dollars may go on for years without the Party knowing of them is simply unbelievable.


A more probable narrative is that CCP-controlled banks continue to offer international money-laundering services to make easy money in difficult times, with the extra advantage of damaging the economy of Western countries.



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