Dubai smugglers! A network of couriers jointly smuggled more than £100 million ($124 million) of ill-gotten cash, vacuum-packed in suitcases, from the UK to Dubai.
Four of the business class-flying smugglers were found guilty on Tuesday as the extent of one of the UK’s largest money laundering scams was revealed. In total, 11 couriers and the ringleader have been convicted.
In less than a year, couriers communicating via a Whatsapp group called Sunshine and Lollipops flew on more than 80 flights carrying cases filled with half-a-million pounds in drug money profits.
“These couriers were important cogs in a large money laundering wheel,” said Ian Truby, senior investigating officer for the National Crime Agency.
“The crime group they belonged to was responsible for smuggling eye-watering amounts of criminal cash out of the UK.”
Couriers were sent on business class flights where they could take advantage of the larger luggage allowance and check-in closer to the departure time.
About £500,000 was crammed into suitcases with coffee granules used to disguise the scent from sniffer dogs.
British police have clamped down on mules travelling between London and Dubai, concerned that criminal cash becomes much harder to trace once it’s taken out of the UK.
Four of the 11 couriers were found guilty on Tuesday – Beatrice Auty, 26, from London; Jonathan Johnson, 55, and Jo Emma Larvin, 44, both from Ripon, North Yorkshire, and Amy Harrison, 27, from Worcester Park in Surrey, – at Isleworth Crown Court.
The network made 83 separate trips between November 2019 and October 2020, overseen by ringleader Abdullah Alfalsi, 47, who was jailed for more than nine years in July last year.
“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,” said Adrian Searle, the NCA’s Director of the National Economic Crime Centre.
“Cash smugglers typically work on behalf of international controller networks, who move the finances of the international drug trade, people traffickers, fraudsters and other criminal groups, making the source of the money difficult to trace.
“The criminality this enables costs the UK billions every year, causes misery and ruins lives across the world.
“This case demonstrates the continued commitment by the NCA to crackdown on money laundering and close the vulnerabilities being exploited.”
Couriers were paid about £3,000 for each trip.
One courier, Tara Hanlon, who was convicted in June 2021, travelled from Heathrow to Dubai three times in two months, checking in 18 suitcases which contained £6.8 million.
Auty travelled the same route twice in July and August 2020, checking in seven suitcases containing £3.4 million.
She was involved in the logistical arrangements for another 16 trips, helping to pack cash into suitcases and accompanying travelers to Heathrow.
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.
The network collected cash from criminal groups around the UK, which the NCA believes was the profits of drug dealing.
Cash was vacuum packed and placed into suitcases, typically each containing around £500,000 and weighing about 40kgs.