Head of ‘colossal’ UK-Dubai money-laundering gang jailed for nine years

The ringleader of Britain’s biggest ever money-laundering gang has been jailed after a “colossal” criminal enterprise was broken up by police.

Abdulla Alfalasi, 47, an Emirati national, enlisted dozens of couriers in his role at the helm of the gang. In total they smuggled more than £100m of dirty cash out of the UK to Dubai between April 2019 and November 2020.

He was sentenced to nine years and seven months in prison, after the “considerable network” of criminals was exposed following an arrest at Heathrow airport in October 2020.

Couriers received £3,000-£8,000 a time. A total of 83 trips were made, with couriers carrying as much as £500,000 in each suitcase. The cases were packed with coffee grounds or air fresheners in an attempt to fool sniffer dogs.

Alfalasi’s firm, Omnivest Gold Trading, was used as cover for the cash declarations in Dubai. The dirty money came from sources including organised crime and drug dealing.

Judge Davis, at Isleworth crown court in west London, said: “There is no doubt that this was a considerable network under your charge, not your sole charge, you were a principal, but it is clear that there were others involved. You were involved in facilitating the removal of a vast amount of cash from this country, through Heathrow airport, to Dubai.

Abdulla Alfalasi
Abdulla Alfalasi, 47, the ringleader of the gang. Photograph: NCA/PA

“You used yourself on a number of occasions as well as a network of 36 hired couriers, who were given somewhere around £3,000 plus expenses per trip and covered with a letter from a company with which you were intimately involved … to vest this criminal enterprise with a veiled cloak of legitimacy.”

The gang was exposed when a recruitment consultant, Tara Hanlon, 31, was stopped at Heathrow on 3 October 2020, carrying bank notes totalling £1.9m in vacuum-packed bags. She admitted smuggling another £3.5m out of the country and was given a three-year-prison sentence.

About a month later, a Czech national, Zdenek Kamaryt, 39, was held as he tried to board a flight from Heathrow to Dubai with £1.3m of cash in his bags. He was jailed for two years and 10 months.

Alfalasi personally carried a total of £6m on 10 trips before recruiting the network of mules. He was arrested at a Belgravia flat on 14 December last year while visiting London.

John Werhun, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This is one of the largest money-laundering cases the CPS has ever prosecuted to date. A colossal amount of dirty money, totalling £104m, was transported to Dubai under Alfalasi’s instructions.”

The prosecutor, Julian Christopher QC, said Alfalasi recruited couriers, “typically young people, attracted by money”, to travel on business class flights, making use of the additional luggage allowance.

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The suitcases, weighing up to 40kg, were also packed with mouthwash and coat hangers in an attempt to fool the X-ray machines. The couriers declared the money to customs on arrival in Dubai, before returning home with the empty bags shortly after.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said it was believed to be the biggest cash money-laundering conspiracy brought to justice in the UK. The senior investigating officer, Ian Truby, said: “Cash is the lifeblood of organised crime groups, which they reinvest into activities such as drug trafficking, which fuels violence and insecurity around the world.”

Alfalasi’s couriers included Nicola Esson, 55, from Leeds, who was arrested after NCA raids in May 2021, and Muhammad Ilyas, 29, from Slough, who was apprehended in February 2020. Both have pleaded guilty to removing criminal property and await sentencing.

Michelle Clarke, a British woman who allegedly helped recruit the mules, is believed to still be in Dubai and is wanted by the NCA.

The Guardian