Jail for Leeds men involved in international ‘cuckoo smurfing’ drugs money laundering operation

Clockwise, from top left, Salim Omer, Hasan Hashimi, Ismail Valli and Jamie Pleavin.
Clockwise, from top left, Salim Omer, Hasan Hashimi, Ismail Valli and Jamie Pleavin.

Four men who were involved in an international drugs money laundering operation worth over £2m have been jailed for a total of 17 years.

A court heard the gang were caught following a raid by police officers at a house in Leeds as one of the men was carrying a holdall stuffed with £100,000 in cash.

Leeds Crown Court heard the four defendants were part of a sophisticated criminal enterprise known as ‘cuckoo smurfing’, which involves helping serious professional criminals to convert drug money into legitimate assets.

Andrew Semple, prosecuting, said arrangements were made to collect large volumes of bank notes from drug dealers across the north of England.

Gang members then delivered the cash to a house on Holtdale View, Holt Park, Leeds, where arrangements were made to send the money on to convert into legitimate assets.

Mobile phones seized during the police operation showed the men had been in touch with contacts in Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The court heard the scam involved the misuse of the Islamic monetary system.

Police uncovered the money laundering operation in August 2013 after observing Jamie Pleavin as he drove from Warrington to the house in Leeds.

Hasan Hashimi then came out of the house before the two men exchanged plastic carriers bags before going back into the property together.

The pair then left the house and Pleavin drove his Ford Fiesta back to Warrington while Hashimi walked down the street with a hold all.

Officers arrested Hashimi in the street and the bag was found to contain 22 bundles of Bank of England notes totalling £106,000.

The notes were found to be contaminated with higher than usual levels of cocaine.

Pleavin was arrested on the M62. His home was searched and police found books containing locations, dates and times of when cash had been collected or delivered.

Salim Omer and Ismail Valli were linked to the operation after mobile phones were analysed.

The court heard Omer was close to the centre of the money laundering operation and has served a previous prison sentence for a similar offence in 2005.

Valli was closely involved in arranging mobile phone contact with those involved abroad.

Pleavin and Hashimi was described as “couriers” for the drug money.

Omer, 44, of Frenchwood Avenue, Preston, was found guilty of money laundering after a trial and was jailed for six years.

Hashimi, of Holtdale View, Leeds, was found guilty of two charges of money laundering and was jailed for four years.

Valli, of Holmerook Road, Preston, pleaded guilty to money laundering and was jailed for three years, eight months.

Pleavin, of Wharton Close, Warrington, pleaded guilty to money laundering and was jailed for three years, four months.

Jailing the men, judge Neil Clark said: “This involved professional, high level money laundering on an international scale.

“It is inevitably very serious. Not only does it allow those involved in commercial drug dealing to hide their profits, it allows criminal money to circulate around the world and perpetuate other forms of crime.”

WHAT IS CUCKOO SMURFING?

The term “cuckoo smurfing” is used to describe a certain type of money laundering.

Cuckoo refers to the fact those involved pay sums of money into accounts of other unsuspecting individuals.

This is likened to the way a cuckoo will lay its eggs in the nests of other species of birds.

Smurfing refers to paying multiple amounts of cash into a variety of accounts.

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