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European police arrest 36 breaking up drugs, money ring

BRUSSELS — Police have arrested 36 people, seized gold, cocaine, automatic weapons and millions of euros as they broke up a drugs and money-laundering ring operating between Morocco and Europe, Europol said Tuesday.

The suspects and evidence were picked up last week in raids involving some 450 officers throughout France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Europol said the crime gang was using cars to move cash from drugs sold in France to Belgium and the Netherlands. It said that more than 1 million euros was moved each month. The cash was sent to Morocco via the Middle East using "unregulated financial channels."

Belgian authorities said up to 400 million euros' worth of drug money was transferred between cities. The Brussels prosecutor's office said large sums were sent through Dubai and laundered by front companies in Casablanca.

Europol said a total of 5.5 million euros in cash was seized, as well as 800,000 euros' worth of gold, 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of cocaine and three semi-automatic weapons.

In Belgium alone, 11 police raids involving almost 100 officers netted almost 3 million euros, seven vehicles, 78 pieces of computer equipment and two firearms. Seven people were detained.

Luxury goods like Louis Vuitton bags and Rolex watches were also seized, as well as four boxes of cash at one location containing 2.5 million euros.

Authorities reported 23 transports from Belgium to the Netherlands over one two-month period in early 2016.

The ring came to the attention of an investigative judge in the southern French city of Marseille after two French nationals were picked up in June 2015 near Avignon, further north, transporting a large sum of money.