UK News NI money laundering operation that cleared £215m busted by police

17:50  21 january  2020
17:50  21 january  2020 Source:   belfastlive.co.uk

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Police say they have broken up a major international money laundering operation being run out of Northern Ireland. Detectives believe it was handling about £ 215 m worth of criminal assets. It is understood to be the second biggest money laundering operation ever uncovered in the UK.

Money laundering is the illegal process of concealing the origins of money obtained illegally by passing it through a complex sequence of banking transfers or commercial transactions.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson © Jonathan Porter/PressEye Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson

A team of PSNI investigators have worked with crime-busters from across Europe to lift the lid on a suspected criminal money operation that has ‘laundered’ more than £200 million, they revealed today.

Officers from the Economic Crime Unit worked for a year and a half with Gardai, the Criminal Assets Bureau, National Crime Agency, Interpol, HMRC and other agencies to crack open the case.

The money, believed to have been generated over eight years from activities including drugs, human trafficking and prostitution, is being described as the “largest money laundering search and arrest operation in Northern Ireland”.

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Money laundering is the process of making large amounts of money generated by a criminal activity, such as drug trafficking or terrorist funding, appear to have come from a legitimate source. The money from the criminal activity is considered dirty, and the process " launders " it to make it look clean.

Police suspect them of laundering money for several drug gang leaders, including Pannawit Prathum, aka Kokae, and Theppabut Solo, who is believed to be hiding in Myanmar but still trafficking in Thailand. At the house police arrested Ms Patthama and detained her friend Wimol Chuenchomwathana.

Fifteen properties were searched across Northern Ireland and seven people arrested during an operation on Monday and Tuesday.

Eight searches were carried out on Monday (January 20) in Banbridge, Newry and Omagh and seven further searches were carried out in Belfast, Banbridge, Newry and Ballymena earlier today(Tuesday January 21).

The money, detectives say, was siphoned through ‘shell’ companies. They moved in on the operation following a “very large and very complex” investigation.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson said: “Together with Tactical Support Group (TSG) officers, neighbourhood and local policing teams and colleagues from PSNI’s Operational Support Department, we carried out a large scale search and arrest operation over two days targeting individuals suspected of high end money laundering through bank accounts in the UK and internationally.

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Authorities say "an elaborate, illegal check cashing scheme" was used to launder nearly 0 million for companies using undocumented workers. The investigation began in November, when Cinnaminson police became suspicious of a check-cashing business on Route 130, MAIA Consulting.

By its very nature, money laundering is an illegal activity carried out by criminals which occurs outside of the normal range of economic and financial statistics. However, the above estimates should be treated with caution. They are intended to give an estimate of the magnitude of money laundering .

“Six men aged 33, 37, 39, 40, 50, 67 and a 32-year-old woman were arrested during the two day operation. The men aged 50 and 67 plus the 32-year-old woman remain in police custody and are being questioned by detectives. The four men aged 33, 37, 39 and 40 have been released on police bail.

“Due to the size and complexity of this investigation, the operation involved PSNI liaison with Garda Economic Crime Bureau (ECB), Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), National Crime Agency (NCA), United Kingdom Financial Investigation Unit (UKFIU) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

“International associations have been identified and PSNI are working with EuroPol and InterPol. We are also being assisted by money laundering experts coordinated by the National Economic CRIME Centre (NECC).

“We believe today’s operation is one of the most significant live investigations into money laundering in the UK.

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Money laundering defined and explained with examples. Money laundering is a term used to describe a scheme in which criminals try to disguise the identity, original ownership, and destination of money that they have obtained through criminal conduct.

“During our extensive investigation we identified that a significant volume of suspected criminal cash was being laundered out of the country through a number of shell companies and bank accounts held here in Northern Ireland. The investigation has identified over 50 companies and over 140 bank accounts

“In total, almost £215million has been deposited to thousands of bank accounts across the UK and also transferred out of the UK through foreign exchange companies since 2011.”

Money laundering, the officer added, “is often a critical enabler of organised criminality”.

He said: “We believe that the majority of this money is derived from a range of criminal activity carried out by organised crime gangs.

“We are committed to keeping people safe by robustly pursuing those who are involved in laundering criminally derived money and enabling criminals to access the profits gained from their involvement in a range of illegal activities.

“I would appeal for anyone with any information on this type of activity to contact Police on 101 or call the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

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