Three men currently await sentencing for their involvement in a £180 million money laundering scam which processed cash on behalf of drug traffickers in the UK. Ali Usman (32), Aqueel Yousaf (28), and Naiz Ali (23) are likely to be given a prison sentence following the conclusion of the most recent trial of a series of trials held at Birmingham Crown Court.

To date, there have been 29 convictions, excluding the latest three, for enabling the international transfer of money acquired through organised crime. The sentences total 140 years in prison.

Muhammad Younas has been given the longest sentence in respect of the 29 convictions. He was handed an 11 year term for his involvement as he ran Mian International Ltd, a Manchester based money service business which was used to process in excess of £160 million of criminal proceeds. It operated between September 2008 and March 2011, and ‘laundered’ the money by transferring the money into US dollar accounts and then transferring to other accounts scattered around Asia and the Middle East.

This particular operation of processing the proceeds of crime began with the collection of the cash from organised criminal networks by two Courier companies; one based in the north of England controlled by Jamshid Haidary, the other based in the Midlands and South controlled by Nagibullah Mohammad. This was arranged, as evidenced during the trial, via coded text messages. Once obtained by the couriers the cash would be transported for counting and bagging at the homes of two other members of the criminal network. Once the cash had been placed in to ‘quick drop’ cash bags labelled with a unique identification number, the money would be taken to banks in either Birmingham or Manchester and deposited into accounts held by Mian International Ltd. Mr Younas and various other members of the criminal network falsified records in order to account for those money flows. During the trials, evidence revealed that fake receipts, used to justify the money being credited to the accounts of Mian International Ltd, totalled £72 million.

Evidence showed that on a single day in 2009; Noble (UK) Ltd (another money service business thought to be linked to this criminal network) had invented 422 records of dealings which totalled more than £228,000. Each individual transaction was recorded as being under the £600 threshold, at which a money service business must ask for a customer’s identification.

Mr Usman, Mr Yousaf, and Mr Ali were involved in a different part of the money laundering operation run by this criminal group. They participated in a method of money laundering known as ‘cuckoo smurfing’ and were charged with their involvement with laundering £500,000 this way. To put it simply, this involved the payment of criminal proceeds into the bank accounts of unwitting recipients, often students from Iran living in the UK who were expecting transfers from home into their UK accounts. The students would find that the expected transfers were not coming from home but instead from different places in the UK. The investigators believe that replacing the legitimate monies being transferred into these accounts with the ‘dirty money’, allowed other ‘clean money’ to be made available overseas to further branches of organised criminals.

Following a number of arrests and cash seizures (totalling £2.6 million) by investigators, the criminal network was dismantled. Following the conclusion of this trial, the National Crime Agency’s Simon Flowers stated;

“This investigation has successfully targeted and dismantled one of the most significant money laundering networks seen in the UK. Criminality like this is the nuts and bolts of organised crime, as the perpetrators can neither do business nor hope to evade detection without making illicit cash flows appear legitimate… The NCA is using its international reach and partnerships across law enforcement and many other sectors in the UK to identify criminal groups, stop them doing business, and bring their members to justice.”

The date for the sentencing of Mr Usman, Mr Yousaf, and Mr Ali has yet to be confirmed.

The Fraud and Business Crime department here at Farleys Solicitors LLP have successfully dealt with similar cases to this. For example, we represented a defendant involved in Operation Enigma, the trial of which concluded in September 2013. Our client was one of sixteen defendants charged with conspiracy to launder money in excess of £250m over approximately 2 years via a money transfer business. The case had substantial international elements and suggestions of funding terrorism. We successfully defended the case; resulting in the prosecution offering no evidence and formal not guilty verdicts were entered against our client.

If you have been accused of involvement with any type of financial crime, it is important that you speak to a solicitor who has the necessary expertise in this highly complex area. For more information or to speak to a criminal defence solicitor in Farleys’ money laundering defence team, please contact us or call our 24 hour crime line on 01254 606050.