Sunday, December 4

The 20 hounds that corner money laundering in Spain

Thursday June 16. Mariano Rajoy, now the registrar, says goodbye to Minister Pilar Llop at the door of the Villamagna hotel in Madrid. The international conclave of registrars has ended. It’s 40 degrees outside and everyone, despite the suffocation, is waiting for goodbyes. But not José Miguel Tabarés, deputy dean of the College of Registrars of Spain. More than the embarrassment of Madrid, he seems to be concerned about the appointment to speak about one of the most secret, but at the same time most effective, bodies in the fight against money laundering by the big mafias and criminal groups. Number 2 of the college is responsible for the Anti-Money Laundering Registry Center (CRAB), the centralized body for the prevention of money laundering and the financing of terrorism of registrars.

Tabarés has accepted the challenge of speaking publicly about the CRAB for the first time. An unprecedented exercise in transparency decided by the college to give visibility to the fact that national registrars have become a world reference this week in the fight against money laundering with an international meeting in Madrid with the presence of delegations from half the world. And all with the aim of analyzing the formula to give another turn to the persecution of money laundering.

“Spain is attractive to launderers due to the high number of real estate operations and the abundant resident foreign colony”

Jose Miguel Tabares

Vice Dean of Registrars

Even so, Tabarés has a hard time opening up. But in the end he gives in and admits to telling this newspaper at least part of the story of this body that is putting big organized crime on the ropes. In reality, he confesses, it all started almost spontaneously in 1993, when the Spanish registrars began to collaborate ‘motu proprio’, without much order or concert, with Sepblac, the Executive Service of the Commission for the Prevention of Money Laundering and Offenses Monetary of the Bank of Spain. In short: a registrar saw something strange and sent that information to the Bank of Spain in the way that seemed most convenient.

Everything was homogenized in March 2016 when the Centralized Body for the Prevention of Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism of the College of Property, Mercantile and Movable Property Registrars, the CRAB, came into force. «How many people make up the CRAB?». “Who are they?”. “What do you do?”. The questions are thorny, but the number 2 of the loggers finally gives some clue. There are 20 “specialists”. They are not registrars. Only “specialists”. After many questions, he reveals: yes, there was an ex-police officer and perhaps there may be a detective. Sure there are computers.

Tabarés shows the CRAB data during the interview. /

Jose Ramon Ladra

Something more precise is the vice-dean when explaining what they do in the CRAB. “They centralize the alarms from the registrars and with those alerts they prepare reports to put Sepblac on the track.” The dynamic –he reveals– is simple. For years, the 1,100 registrars have anti-money laundering guidelines and a system that alerts them: if the money comes from a paradise, if there are loans that are amortized too quickly, if there are strange movements in merchants… an automatic warning goes off. Even so, each registrar can send to ‘review’ any operation that is doubtful.

With these ‘automatic alarms’ alone, the registrars sent a total of 28,684 suspicious operations to the CRAB in 2021 (9,900 from the property registry, 18,770 from the commercial registry and 14 from personal property). Less than 30,000 ‘doubtful’ registrations, when registrars in Spain process more than 1.5 million acts each year, is a minimum percentage. But, even so, José Miguel Tabarés emphasizes, “it is a huge flood of data that is difficult to interpret if there is no prior screening.”

data crossing

And therein lies the magic of the CRAB. «Our most valuable tool is the ability to cross records from different places in Spain. If there are patterns in sales or records of suspicious companies or companies, we already have a very important clue”, reveals the vice-dean, who also recognizes that “open sources” (tracking on the Internet) is another of his strengths in this twenty years. experts looking for ‘opaque gold’ in their computers.

“Our complaints are very accurate. A very high percentage ends up in successful investigations»

Jose Miguel Tabares

Vice Dean of Registrars

The registrars’ ‘hounds’ have no more weapons. They cannot trace accounts nor do they have access to sensitive reports. That is a matter of the Bank of Spain, the Treasury or the security forces, after obtaining a judicial permit. But with these ‘limited weapons’, the CRAB has become in little more than five years the “eyes and guide” of the anti-money laundering units of the Tax Agency, the Bank of Spain, the Police or the Civil Guard.

So much so that in 2021 that avalanche of almost 30,000 suspicions was reflected in 251 already refined files that, Tabarés proudly points out, “ended up in a very high percentage of successful investigations.” «Yes, it is true. We are a European reference, only Italy is on our heels », the deputy dean is proud, who only a few minutes ago had reservations about sticking out his chest.

Real estate on the coast, companies in big cities

The statistics of the registrars leave no room for doubt: the vast majority of the alerts to the CRAB from the property registries are for property purchases in coastal places, particularly in Andalusia, Valencia, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. However, more than 50% of the notices in the commercial registries about suspicions in companies are concentrated in Madrid and Catalonia. “It is a cast that does not surprise us. If you want whitening, what you want is for your operation to go unnoticed. And in places on the coast there are many more real estate operations, while in the two big cities the movement of merchants is much higher, “says Tabarés. According to the deputy dean, there are two keys that would explain the high volume of alerts in Spain: that high number of real estate movements and the high proportion of residents of foreign nationality compared to other countries.

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