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WCO Operation TENTACLE Asia/Pacific II: Seizures Exceed 19 Million Euro in Currencies, Gold, and Precious Metals

26 octobre 2023

In a coordinated regional initiative, the World Customs Organization's (WCO) AML/CTF Programme, working alongside partner organizations, carried out Operation TENTACLE Asia/Pacific II from April 2nd to June 4th, 2023. Eight (08) Asia-Pacific Customs administrations, including Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore, along with the Spanish Guardia Civil, participated in this extensive regional operation.

Operation TENTACLE Asia/Pacific II surpassed the achievements of previous WCO operations in terms of seizures related to money laundering and terrorism financing operation securing assets valued at more than 19 million Euro in mixed currencies, gold, and other precious metals. These seizures not only showcased the scale of the criminal networks laundering money in the Customs arena but also emphasized the diligent planning and execution by the officers of the participating law enforcement agencies.

The operation uncovered a complex web of criminal activities, exposing multiple Middle East-based Hawala networks that were linked with methamphetamine smuggling organizations in Myanmar. During the operation, investigating Customs and Police agencies discovered that these criminal organizations were trading gold in exchange for illicit drug shipments – a marked shift from traditional transaction methods. This novel tactic introduced additional intricacy to their ongoing illicit undertakings and posed considerable obstacles for law enforcement agencies. The operation also revealed numerous organized trade-based money laundering (TBML) networks, shedding light on the complex financial schemes connected to international trade employed by these criminal entities.

The operation resulted in the apprehension of 127 suspects, thereby considerably weakening these networks and impeding their illicit financial activities. Notably, a third of those detained were directly linked to gold-based money laundering networks, highlighting the operation's targeted approach and effectiveness in neutralizing pivotal actors within these illegal structures.

The notable results of this operation can be attributed to the meticulous planning and cooperation among WCO Members. Prior to the operational phase, a pre-operational capacity-building workshop was hosted by the Australian Border Force (ABF) in Brisbane, Australia, in November 2022. During this workshop, the National Contact Points (NCPs) of the participating countries refined their AML/CTF investigative techniques and collaborated in refining the blueprint for the operational initiative.

Operation TENTACLE uncovered emerging AML/CTF patterns in the Asia/Pacific region, novel concealment methods, inventive TBML strategies, primary hubs of money laundering, trafficking channels for gold and bulk cash, and enhanced tactical methodologies to bolster AML/CTF initiatives across the Asia-Pacific region. This endeavour epitomizes the determination of the participating Customs administrations and the unwavering international cooperation in confronting the increased intricate challenges presented by transnational criminal organizations involved in money laundering and terrorism financing within the Customs sphere.