Six members of a money laundering network which smuggled more than £100 million out of the UK to the UAE have been sentenced following an investigation by the National Crime Agency.
The network transported the cash to Dubai during 83 separate trips between November 2019 and October 2020, overseen by ringleader Abdullah Alfalasi, 48, who was jailed for more than nine years.
The couriers, who were paid around £3,000 for each trip and would be booked on business class flights due to the extra luggage allowance, communicated on WhatsApp groups, including one titled ’Sunshine and lollipops’.
From left to right: Muhammad Ilyas, Nicola Esson, Beatrice Auty, Jo Emma Larvin and Jonathan Johnson
Beatrice Auty, 27, from London; Jonathan Johnson, 55, and Jo Emma Larvin, 44, both from Ripon in North Yorkshire, and Amy Harrison, 28, from Worcester Park in Surrey, were convicted following a trial at Isleworth Crown Court on 26 April this year.
Two other couriers from the same network were convicted at earlier hearings and were sentenced alongside them last week (12 July).
Adrian Searle, Director of the National Economic Crime Centre in the NCA, said:
“The laundering of such vast quantities of cash around the globe enables organised criminals and corrupt elites to clean or hide their ill-gotten gains.
“Cash smugglers work on behalf of international controller networks, who move the finances of the international drug trade, people traffickers, fraudsters and other criminal groups.
“This case demonstrates the continued commitment to crackdown on money laundering and target organised crime groups who cause misery and ruin lives.”
Investigators established that Tara Hanlon, who was convicted in June 2021, had briefed another courier about the operation. That courier had travelled from Heathrow to Dubai on three occasions in August and September 2020, checking in 18 suitcases which contained £6.8 million.
Auty, who was arrested following NCA raids in May 2021, travelled the same route twice in July and August of that year, checking in seven suitcases containing £3.4 million. Czech national Zdenek Kamaryt, who was convicted of money laundering in March 2021, joined her on the second trip.
Auty was involved in the logistical arrangements for another 16 trips, helping to pack cash into suitcases, accompanying travellers to Heathrow and collecting empty suitcases when they returned so they could be used again.
Larvin made two trips to Dubai in August and September 2020; one with Amy Harrison when they took seven cases between them containing £2.2 million and another with her partner Jonathan Johnson, when they took eight suitcases containing £2.8 million.
Larvin and Johnson were arrested at Manchester Airport in March 2022.
Harrison made three trips between July and September 2020, taking 15 suitcases containing around £6 million.
The network collected cash from criminal groups around the UK, which was mainly the profits of drug dealing, and took it to counting houses that were rented apartments in Central London.
The money was then vacuum packed and separated into suitcases, which would typically each contain around £500,000. They were sprayed with coffee or air fresheners in an effort to prevent them being found by sniffer dogs.
NCA senior investigating officer Ian Truby said:
“These couriers smuggled cash out of the UK on an industrial scale, at the behest of organised crime groups.
“They were prepared to travel out to the UAE for a holiday in the sun, in return for a cut of the profit.
“This case demonstrates the NCA’s commitment to targeting the criminal networks involved in money laundering.
“Profits are often re-invested into criminal activities such as drug trafficking. This fuels violence and insecurity in the UK and across the world, which is why our investigation continues.”
The other couriers sentenced last week were:
Nicola Esson, 56, from Leeds, who was arrested in May 2021. Esson travelled from Heathrow to Dubai on three occasions in August and September 2020, checking in 19 suitcases with a combined weight of almost half a tonne.
Muhammad Ilyas, 30, from Slough, was arrested by NCA officers at Heathrow Airport after in February 2020 after arriving on a flight from Dubai. He had checked in four suitcases at the airport ten days earlier, one of which had gone missing, and declared almost £1.5 million in cash to Dubai Customs. The missing suitcase was subsequently found by Border Force officers, and contained £431,360 in cash. He had made one previous trip in January 2021, declaring £1 million on that occasion.
At Isleworth Crown Court today Auty was sentenced to 42 months imprisonment, Johnson to 12 months suspended for two years, Larvin to 24 months suspended for two years, Harrison to 24 months suspended for two years, Esson to 22 months suspended for two years and Ilyas to 15 months suspended for two years.
The NCA investigation has been supported by Border Force and the UAE authorities. A number of British couriers are under investigation in the UAE, and cannot leave until inquiries have been completed.