The Bank of China and 297 people are facing indictments in Italy involving a massive money laundering operation. Most of the suspects are Chinese nationals residing in Italy – but the roster of those facing charges also includes four senior managers of the Chinese state bank’s branch in Milan.
Prosecutors allege that the suspects engaged in “mafia-like techniques,” including intimidation, to make their scheme work. All in all, the scam was reportedly worth over 4.5 billion euros ($5.1 billion) – with funds coming in from such valued businesses as counterfeiting, prostitution, labor exploitation and tax evasion.
Nearly half that money was funneled through the Bank of China, which brought in 758,000 euros ($860,000) in commissions for its trouble, according to Italian investigative documents. To avoid detection, prosecutors claim that the money was fractioned into small sums. Prosecutors also allege an established culture of looking the other way among managers and workers at the Bank of China.
The Bank of China has denied wrongdoing, and their lawyers have said they are not guilty of any misuse of international money transfers.
Beijing did not cooperate with the investigation, Italian officials said, nor did they have any answer to offer about where money went after it left Italian shores – since Italian police were unable to continue their investigation in China. The AP reports, on the basis of their own investigation, that at least some of that money flowed into the coffers of a large government-controlled import-export company that has been accused of repeatedly shipping counterfeit merchandise, some of it to the United States.
China’s state-run Global Times newspaper published a rebuttal to that AP story, calling it “strange” and noting that the Bank of China has “no obligation to cooperate with Italian police.”