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LATEST: Key Kinahan cartel member arrested in Spain for laundering €200M in 18 months through vodka company and hawala system

By AML Intelligence Correspondents

One of Europe’s biggest money launderers – a key member of the Kinahan cartel – has been arrested and charged in Spain.

Irishman Johnny Morrissey (62), placed under sanctions by US authorities earlier this year as part of an international crackdown on the Dubai-based cartel, is accused of laundering €200M in just 18 months.

Europol described Morrissey as one of the “biggest money launderers” in Europe. The agency said he and “his associates were in charge of collecting large amounts of cash from criminal organisations which they would then ‘deliver’ to other criminal organisations in other countries.”

The money was transferred using the hawala underground banking system, an informal method of transferring money without any physical money actually moving.


“During the course of the investigation (1.5 years), it is believed that the suspects have laundered over €200 million using this method. The scope of activity of this criminal organisation is worldwide,” said Europol.

The main members of the organisation in Spain created a brand of vodka promoted in nightclubs and restaurants in the Costa del Sol to disguise the source of their earnings.

‘One of the suspects arrested ran a car dealership and was in charge of providing vehicles to the criminal organisation in which he had built concealed compartments to transport the large amounts of cash undetected’


They also founded a company in the UK, dependent on another company based in Gibraltar, in order to hide the true identity of the administrators of the companies that were being used to launder the illegal profits using the hawala system.

One of the suspects arrested ran a car dealership and was in charge of providing vehicles to the criminal organisation in which he had built concealed compartments to transport the large amounts of cash undetected

Morrissey who is now facing money laundering charges was one of seven suspects — including cartel founder Christy Kinahan and his sons Daniel and Christopher Jnr — named in in the sanctions by the US Department of the Treasury in April.

Morrissey was the first of the seven to be arrested in an operation on the Costa del Sol, Spain on Monday.

Two more of his associates were arrested in Spain and the United Kingdom on Thursday, along with 11 property searches being carried out in both countries. Media reported one of those arrested as his wife.

The detention for money laundering is regarded as significant and a sign of progress in the transatlantic investigation into the cartel.

Police from the Spanish Civil Guard, the US Drug Enforcement Agency, Ireland’s national police, An Garda Siochan (AGS) and Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) took part in the operation which led to the three arrests.

Photo credit: Europol

According to the US Treasury Morrissey has “worked for the [cartel] for several years, including as an enforcer”. He “facilitates international drug shipments for the organisation from South America” and was also “involved in money laundering”.

It is further stated that he was the owner or controller, either directly or indirectly, of the Scottish-based Nero Drinks Company Ltd, which sells luxury alcoholic drinks and is one of the three companies now on the US sanctions list.

Morrissey has lived in the Malaga region in recent years, had, according to the department, “given a significant portion of the business to Daniel Kinahan to compensate for loads of drugs seized by law enforcement”.

It said that Morrissey controlled the business through his wife, who was the primary shareholder and “is used as a frontperson for his interests”.

The department said as a result of the action taken against the people and businesses named in the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of the designated individuals or entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons must be blocked and reported to” the office of foreign assets control.


In a statement, Europol said the investigation was initiated by the Spanish Guardia Civil at the beginning of 2021 after a series of actions which led to the seizure of 200 kilos of cocaine and €500 000 in cash in vehicles equipped with hidden compartments and owned by the gang.

The case was rapidly brought to Europol due to its international nature. Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre has since been providing analytical and operational support, contributing to confirming links with other countries and identifying new connections to extend the operation.

A number of operational meetings were organised by Europol to bring together the national investigators to prepare for the action day. Since then, Europol has been providing continuous intelligence development to support the field investigators.

On the action day, on-the-spot support was provided by Europol financial specialists and analysts who were deployed to Spain to assist with the investigative measures.

This investigation was carried out with the financial support of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

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