Kingpin jailed after £104m in dirty cash from UK

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The ringleader of a gang that smuggled more than £100m of dirty cash from Britain to Dubai has been jailed for more than nine years in the biggest money laundering case of its kind.

Emirati national Abdullah Al Falasi, 47, recruited dozens of couriers to fly suitcases full of banknotes out of the country on business class flights between April 2019 and November 2020.

The mules were paid expenses of between £3,000 and £8,000 at a time for a total of 83 trips as part of a money laundering service for dozens of drug gangs across the UK.

Carrying up to £500,000 in each suitcase – filled with coffee grounds or air fresheners to fool sniffer dogs – they will use Al Falasi’s firm Omnist Gold Trading to cover the cash declaration on arrival in Dubai.

Last year, Tara Hanlon was jailed for 34 months (PA). / PA Archive

The operation came to light after recruitment consultant Tara Hanlon, 31, was stopped at Heathrow Airport on October 3, 2020, with a stash of banknotes worth a total of £1.9 million in vacuum-sealed bags.

Almost a month later, Czech national Zdenek Kamaryt, 39, was arrested after he tried to board a flight from Heathrow to Dubai with £1.3 million in cash in his bag.

Al Falasi, who pocketed £6million on 10 cash trips before recruiting a network of couriers, was arrested on December 14 last year at his wife’s wealthy family-owned Belgravia flat during a visit to London. was

The father-of-six, who attended the hearing with the help of an Arabic interpreter, was jailed for nine years and seven months on Thursday after pleading guilty to removing criminal property.

Judge Simon Davies said: “There is no doubt that it was a significant network under your charge, not your only charge, you were a principal but it is clear there were others involved.”

“You were involved in facilitating the removal of large amounts of cash from this country to Dubai, through Heathrow airport,” he said.

“You used yourself on a number of occasions as well as a network of 36 hired couriers, who were paid around £3,000 plus expenses for each journey and covered with a letter from the company. went to someone you were closely associated with, called Omnivest Gold Trading, to keep this criminal enterprise under the guise of legitimacy.

Cash is the lifeblood of organized crime groups, which they reinvest in activities such as drug trafficking, which fuel violence and insecurity around the world.

Prosecutor Julian Christopher QC said Al Falasi enlisted Michelle Clarke – a British woman he had met in Dubai – to help recruit a total of 36 couriers, “usually young people, who were are attracted to”, said prosecutor Julian Christopher QC.

He would book them business class flights so they could use the extra baggage allowance, suitcases weighing up to 40kg each and stuffed with mouthwash and coat hangers in an attempt to fool the X-ray machines.

Couriers will declare the amount to Customs on arrival in Dubai with empty bags before returning home days later.

One, Nicola Essen, 55, from Leeds, checked 19 suitcases with a combined weight of almost half a tonne over three trips in August and September 2020, declaring a total of £6.4 million.

Mohammed Ghiyas Ilyas, 29, from Slough, who took a total of £2.5million in two trips, was arrested on a return flight to Heathrow in February 2020 after Border Force officers at the airport found a The bag was found to contain £431,000 in cash. .

Both have admitted removing criminal property and await sentencing, while Clarke is believed to still be in Dubai and wanted by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Last year, Hanlon, who admitted money laundering offenses worth more than £5 million, was jailed for 34 months and Comrade was jailed for 26 months after pleading guilty to money laundering. was

The NCA said the “international controller network” operated at the height of global money laundering.

The gang is believed to have charged between 10% and 13% for servicing funds generated by dozens of criminal gangs across the UK, believed to deal street drugs including cocaine. came from

On arrival in Dubai, the money would be converted into dirhams, with some buying gold in Africa or cryptocurrency, before being sent back to customers in the UK.

The NCA said it was believed to be the biggest cash money laundering scheme in the UK.

Senior investigating officer Ian Turby said: “Cash is the lifeblood of organized crime groups which they reinvest in activities such as drug trafficking, which fuel violence and insecurity around the world.

“Disrupting the supply of illicit cash is a priority for the NCA and our partners.

“The investigation is ongoing and we will do everything we can to bring more criminals to book.”

Adrian Darbishire QC, defending, described Al Falasi as a “family man and a small businessman”, who as an Emirati citizen was “valuable to some” and a “useful idiot” to others. .

“He’s done something very bad and done something very stupid and he’s the one who finds himself in court with £100m of implications,” he added.