Cash-laundering kingpin who recruited Leeds women jailed over £100m scam

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A money-laundering kingpin who recruited women from Leeds as part of a £100 million scam has been jailed.

Abdullah Mohammed Ali Bin Beyat Alfalasi, 47, was handed nine years behind bars for arranging British cash mules to travel from the UK to Dubai with suitcases stuffed with a total of £104 million over the course of a year.

Regarded as one of the biggest money laundering cases ever in Britain, it was believed to be profits from drug dealing, and the couriers would pack hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time into suitcases.

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At least 26 couriers were each paid between £3,000 and £8,000 per trip depending on how much cash they were smuggling.

Alfalasi and one of his Leeds couriers, Tara Hanlon.Alfalasi and one of his Leeds couriers, Tara Hanlon.
Alfalasi and one of his Leeds couriers, Tara Hanlon.

Among Alfalasi’s couriers were Nicola Esson, 55, from Leeds, who was arrested during raids last May.

Esson travelled from Heathrow to Dubai three times in August and September 2020, checking in 19 suitcases with a combined weight of almost half a tonne.

She returned a few days after each trip with the same baggage items, which weighed significantly less each time.

Esson will be sentenced at a later date.

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Tara Hanlon, 31, of Pelham Court, Leeds, was jailed for nearly three years last July after she was caught taking around £2m from the UK to Dubai.

She had already smuggled £3.5m in five suitcases on three different trips over a four-month period when Border Force officers stopped her at Heathrow Airport in October 2020 with the latest haul.

Recruitment executive Hanlon was trying to board a flight to Dubai with wads of sterling banknotes stuffed in vacuum-packed suitcases covered in coffee powder, to prevent it from being detected by Border Force sniffer dogs.

She claimed she was only going on a girls’ holiday, telling officers she had so many cases because she did not know what to wear on the trip.

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But text messages found on her phones by investigators showed Hanlon was being paid around £3,000 for each trip.

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In total, the group took at least a 10 per cent cut, so between them are likely to have made in excess of £12m from the operation.

Hauls of cash was collected from criminal gangs around the UK and taken to counting houses, usually rented apartments in central London.

Wads of bank notes were then vacuum packed and separated into suitcases which would each contain around £500,000, weighing around 6.2st (40 kilos).

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Couriers flew business class due to the extra luggage allowance, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Dubai national Alfalasi was arrested at his upmarket flat in London last December.

He made several cash trips between Dubai and the UK from November 2019 to March 2020.

Ian Truby, the NCA senior investigating officer, said: “This money-laundering network smuggled astronomical sums of money out of the UK, and is one of the largest we’ve ever investigated.

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“Cash is the lifeblood of organised crime groups, which they re-invest into activities such as drug trafficking which fuels violence and insecurity around the world.

“Disrupting the supply of such illicit cash is a priority for the NCA and our partners.”