Madrid's Las Ventas bullring. (File photo/Liu Tsung-lung)
Police in Spain on Sunday arrested Gao Ping, a local Chinese businessman and a member of the Zhejiang province political consultative conference, on 13 charges including smuggling goods from China, money laundering and dodging taxes. The local Chinese community meanwhile is complaining of discrimination on the part of the police and that the raid was aimed at demonizing them.
In a massive bust, the police arrested Gao and 82 other people, of which 58 are Chinese nationals, 17 are Spanish and eight are from other countries. They reportedly include a city councilor from Fuenlabrada, Madrid, and a porn star. The police also raided 120 warehouses and residence, seized €10 million (US$13 million) in cash and 200 vehicles, guns, pieces of jewelry and works of art, according to Guangzhou's 21st Century Business Herald.
The authorities have been investigating Gao's business operations for two years, with customs having found evidence that Gao's company, a wholesaler of consumer products, has evaded a huge amount of taxes in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia by under-reporting imported goods or falsifying reports.
Spanish police believe a smuggling ring led by Gao has been bringing goods from China into the country and using them to launder more than €1.2 billion (US$1.5 million) back to China over the past four years, according to the newspaper.
Gao left his hometown in Qingtian county in Zhejiang province for Spain when he was 18 years old in 1990. He worked as a chef at a restaurant and then became the founder of a fast food chain and agent for a French bag maker. He began wholesaling goods from China in Europe after establishing Spanish International Trade City Group and partnering with small shops in the Zhejiang city of Yiwu, a town famous for the small commodity trade.
He has become known in Spain as keen collector of art and as a sports fan, opening an art gallery in Beijing and creating a fund for the arts as well as funding a soccer team in Spain, according to the newspaper.
The overseas Chinese community in Spain has condemned the arrests and Chinese staff working at Gao's company have held a demonstration. A Chinese lawyer in Madrid said the reputation of Chinese people living in Spain has been tarnished, which could affect their livelihoods as local media have "demonized" local Chinese businesses on account of the incident.
A Chinese businessman surnamed Xue who witnessed one of the raids in Fuenlabrada said police seized all the money they could find and used circular saws to force entry into properties if their owners were away when they searched more than 100 houses of Chinese expats on Oct. 16, according to the 21st Century Business Herald.
Over 500 police officers and 50 customs officers took part in the raid. Officers checked the identities of residents to seek out illegal immigrants. Over a hundred Chinese residents without ID or a residence permit were reportedly taken away.
The three-day raid was targeting Chinese organized crime, the police said. Police officials said there have been criminal activity such as money laundering, gambling and illegal immigration, drug smuggling and bribery in the area, according to the newspaper.
Gao Ping 高平