The leader of a gang who smuggled more than £100million in cash through Dubai for UK criminals has been jailed for more than nine years.
Abdulla Mohammad Ali Bin Beyat Alfalasi recruited dozens of people to carry suitcases full of cash out of the UK between April 2019 and November.
The father-of-six, who followed the hearing at Isleworth Crown Court with the help of an Arabic interpreter, was jailed for nine years and seven months after pleading guilty to removing criminal property.
Described as the largest such money laundering ring to have been busted by the National Crime Agency, the business saw a total of £104million illegally transported.
The 47-year-old would pay between £3,000 and £8,000 for his mules for a total of 83 trips, which acted as a money laundering service for dozens of drug gangs across the UK.
Each suitcase is said to contain up to £500,000 and is filled with coffee grounds or air fresheners to try and fool the sniffer dogs.
Alfalasi would also pay for couriers to travel business class to make the most of the extra baggage allowance.
Once they arrived in Dubai, they would use a company set up by Alfalasi called Omnivest Gold Trading to cover the cash declarations and a few days later they would return to the UK with empty bags.
The money would then be converted into dirhams, with some used to buy gold in Africa or cryptocurrency, before being returned to customers in the UK.
How was the smuggling network broken?
The operation was finally uncovered when recruitment consultant Tara Hanlon, 31, was arrested at Heathrow Airport with luggage containing £1.9million in vacuum bags.
Just a month later, Czech national Zdenek Kamaryt, 39, was arrested as he tried to board a flight from Heathrow to Dubai with £1.3million in cash in his bags .
Hanlon, who admitted to money laundering offenses involving more than £5million, was jailed for 34 months last year and Kamaryt was sentenced to 26 months after also pleading guilty to money laundering offences. money laundering.
Prior to recruiting his network, Alfalasi hauled £6m on 10 trips to the country.
He then enlisted Michelle Clarke, a Briton he met in Dubai, to help recruit a total of 36 people to make the trips.
One, Nicola Esson, 55, from Leeds, checked in 19 suitcases on three visits in August and September 2020, claiming a total of £6.4million.
Muhammed Geyas Ilyas, 29, from Slough, took a total of £2.5million in two trips and was arrested on a flight home to Heathrow in February 2020 after Border Force officers found a bag that had gone missing at the airport containing £431,000 in cash.
Both have pleaded guilty to removing criminal property and are awaiting sentencing, while Clarke is believed to still be in Dubai and wanted by the National Crime Agency.
Phones, photos and credit cards
It was in December last year that Alfalasi was arrested at a flat owned by his wife’s wealthy family in Belgravia, central London.
Inside, officers discovered three phones containing numerous messages between him and others regarding the collection, consolidation and movement of money.
The phones also contained photos of suitcases filled with cash, a reading from a money-counting machine and an itinerary for a courier’s journey, with Alfalasi recording himself every step of the way to ensure that the money was delivered safely to Dubai.
Credit cards were also recovered which had been used to buy the plane tickets.
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“Collecting the Blood of Organized Crime”
The NCA said the “international network of monitors” operated on top of global money laundering and was “one of the most significant cases” it had ever investigated.
Lead Investigator Ian Truby said: “Money is the lifeblood of organized crime groups which they reinvest in activities such as drug trafficking which fuels 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 in our power to bring other offenders to appear.”
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