The financial police in Italy say they have broken up an illegal metal recycling operation which enabled criminals to transfer large amounts of illicit cash between the country and China.

A three-year investigation uncovered a network of firms which sold around 150,000t of scrap copper, brass, aluminium and other metals from various sources between 2013 and 2021. 

Transactions estimated to be worth €300m ($364m) circumvented environmental norms and evaded taxes.

To make the metal appear legitimate for the end users, companies in the Czech Republic and Slovenia produced falsified documents to show the material had been acquired in China.

The firms also sent around €150m in deposits to Chinese banks as apparent payment so the documentation would seem more authentic,

Police said their monitoring of the operations showed that when the money showed up in China, the Italian businessmen received huge bundles of cash back in Italy. On one occasion, €200,000 was handed over in a plastic shopping bag.

“Without wiretapping, surveillance and, above all, micro-cameras, we would never have been able to uncover this mechanism,” Reuters news agency quoted senior financial police official Colonel Stefano Commentucci as saying,

So far police have made five arrests, placed 53 people under official investigation and seized €66m. The investigations continue, especially into the Chinese operations.

The Chinese had considerable cash resources, thanks to the black economy and other criminal activities, but faced logistical and legal hurdles in getting the money back home, police said.


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