The Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) has dismantled a large criminal network illegally distributing audio-visual content in Europe, Asia and the Middle East and laundering the criminal proceeds.
The investigation, supported by Europol and Eurojust, also involved law enforcement authorities from Belgium, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
On June 3rd 2020, law enforcement authorities across the EU carried out 15 house searches, arrested 11 individuals (four in Spain, one in Germany, three in Sweden, three in Denmark) and interrogated 16 others for their possible involvement in the illegal scheme.
The suspected leader of the criminal network is among those arrested. The raids resulted in the seizure of €4.8 million, including properties worth more than €2 milion, four cars worth about half a million euros, luxury watches, cash, cryptocurrencies and electronic equipment. Law enforcement authorities took down 50 IP addresses and part of the online criminal infrastructure while 11 bank accounts totalling €1.1 million were also frozen.
The investigation into the activities of the criminal network started in 2019 when the Policía Nacional detected several websites illegally distributing audio-visual content in different countries across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The distribution of the illegal services, in breach with intellectual property rights, was set-up via Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) and managed from Spain.
The investigations began as a result of the complaints filed by a ‘coalition’ of La Liga, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, Nordic Content, NAGRA and the Bundesliga (DFL), legitimate holder of the rights to audiovisual content offered fraudulently. These led the agents to the alleged head of the organisation, an Iranian citizen who lived in Alicante, from where he operated alongside several of his associates.
The criminal network was offering illegally more than 40,000 TV channels, movies, documentaries and other digital content via websites hosted on an international network of servers. The illegal service was made available through an attractive web environment at prices much more competitive than the ones on the legal market.
The criminal network had even put in place a sophisticated technical assistance and quality control through an own customer support online platform. More than two million subscribers were receiving these illegal services totalling the profits for the criminal network at an estimated €15 million. The investigation focused on shutting down the servers and disconnecting the IP addresses, and obtaining relevant information to effectively dismantle the criminal group.
Europol assisted the investigation by facilitating the information exchange and supporting the financial investigation. During the day of the raids, a Virtual Command Post was set-up at Europol to facilitate the operational coordination and the real-time information exchange and operational analysis against Europol’s databases.
According to Europol, this is a first example of the synergies created by the merger of different teams comprised of economic and financial experts under the new European Financial and Economic Crime Centre recently created at Europol.
Europol’s IPC3 (Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition) which supported the investigation is a project co-funded by the EUIPO to combat Intellectual Property Crime.
“We are grateful to the Spanish National Police and all involved in this operation for working together to protect and defend content owner rights,” said Melcior Soler, Audiovisual Director at LaLiga. “Piracy is a global problem and it’s critical for the industry as whole to come together to fight it, share knowledge and leverage key partnerships and anti-piracy technologies to preserve high-quality content for our fans – whether it’s in sports or other types of entertainment. Together we can make a difference and alter the piracy landscape.”
“The DFL welcomes this transnational anti-piracy operation that comes at the same time major European championships resume their activities, added Dr. Holger Blask, Director Audiovisual Rights at DFL. “Tackling large pirate operations at the source is a key component in the fight against large-scale content theft. We are glad the industry is more and more united against piracy, in this case both the sports and the content industries joined efforts to make it happen”.
“We applaud the Spanish National Police for leading this anti-piracy effort to a successful outcome,” commented Pascal Métral, VP Legal Affairs and Head of Anti-Piracy Investigations, Intelligence and Litigation at NAGRA. “These results could not have been achieved without close collaboration between all stakeholders – content owners, governmental entities and anti-piracy companies – and is a clear demonstration of how such efforts can have a real impact on stopping the spread of commercial piracy. We are honoured to support the effort through our investigations and intelligence teams and to represent the interests of the sports and content industry to ensure their rights are protected.”
“Nordic Content Protection congratulates the Spanish National Police and other national law enforcement agencies throughout Europe that conducted this very successful operation,” remarked Anders Braf, CEO at Nordic Content Protection. “With assets and money worth six million Euros confiscated from the pirates, it’s a strong signal to other pirate organisations that organised IP crime eventually does not pay off.”
This latest success further illustrates the importance of a close partnership between content owners, operators, technology providers, policy makers and governments, to make real strides in the battle against piracy and to protect all media and entertainment industry stakeholders’ legitimate business.