Bitcoin ATMs Show Gap In EU’s Money Laundering Rules, Police Say

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A Spanish effort to prosecute a gang that used Bitcoin automated cash machines suspected of being a front for illegal-drug payments has exposed a hole in European anti-money-laundering controls, law-enforcement authorities in the country said.

Rules designed to force money handlers to vet their clients don’t apply to the cash machines’ owners or to cryptocurrency trading platforms, according to drug-enforcement officials from the Civil Guard, a type of police in Spain.

Bitcoin ATMs are a relatively new phenomenon and are spreading rapidly. There are more than 5,400 machines installed worldwide, a number that has grown by more than half over the past year, according to Coin ATM Radar, a website that tracks the industry. Of those, 89 are in Spain. In the U.S., crypto ATMs have proliferated at corner stores, casinos and smoke shops. Their owners, like those in Spain, don’t have to comply with strict anti-money-laundering regulations.

Spanish police announced in May that they had taken down a laundering operation that used Bitcoin ATMs. They arrested eight Spaniards and Latin Americans who allegedly used nine companies to transfer more than 9 million euros ($10 million) for drug traffickers in Colombia and other countries. The authorities say the cash machines were crucial.

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