Ringleader of UK's biggest ever money laundering network jailed

Abdullah Alfalasi arranged travel for a network of couriers, who between them smuggled £104 million of drugs money from the UK to Dubai

Published

The ringleader of the UK's biggest ever money laundering network has been jailed for nine years after an international joint crime-busting operation between British and Emirati law enforcement teams.

Abdullah Alfalasi, 47, from the United Arab Emirates, ran an organised crime group which smuggled more than £100 million in cash out of the UK.

Alfalasi arranged travel for a network of couriers, who between them smuggled £104 million of drugs money from the UK to Dubai between November 2019 and October 2020.

Couriers were recruited by Alfalasi from around the UK and given huge sums of cash to transport out to the UAE.

Abdullah Alfalasi
Abdullah Alfalasi

During the operation to dismantle the group, Border Force officers at Heathrow seized millions of pounds of the cash hidden in suitcases belonging to the gang.

The money was uncovered using specialist cash sniffer dogs, despite efforts by the group to hide the scent of the notes using air freshener.

Four of Alfalasi’s couriers have already been convicted as part of the NCA’s operation, which has been supported by BorderFour Force and the Dubai Police, and others remain under investigation.

Alfalasi had originally denied two counts of personally taking millions of pounds of cash out of the UK between April and November 2020 but subsequently pleaded guilty. He was arrested at a flat in Belgravia in London in December last year after flying in from Dubai.

It's believed the vast sums of cash had been collected by drug dealers on the streets of Britain supplying cocaine. Alfalasi's plan was to invest the cash in commodities including gold, through his Dubai-based company, before bringing the money back into the UK.

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

“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.

“This investigation doesn’t stop here though, as we will continue to target cash couriers and hit crime groups where i hurts – in the pocket.”

International money laundering networks use cash smuggling, cryptocurrencies, and banking systems to move billions of pounds of dirty money each year. This cash comes from the drugs trade, fraud, other illegal commodities, and even associated with terrorism and conflicts around the world.

Adrian Searle, Director of the NCA’s National Economic Crime Centre, said: “International money laundering networks such as this one can move hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pounds of dirty money around the globe annually. This money underpins the shadow economy and fuels serious criminality.

“The NECC works with partners to dismantle money laundering networks, seize cash, and make it harder to launder money within and out of the UK.

Handout photo of some of the money found in the possession of Tara Hanlon when she was stopped at Heathrow
Handout photo of some of the money found in the possession of Tara Hanlon when she was stopped at Heathrow

“International partnerships are key. We strongly welcome the efforts made by UAE law enforcement, including Dubai Police, to assist our investigation and this builds on a landmark agreement to tackle illicit finance that the Home Secretary signed with the UAE last September.”

Christina Brown, Director of Border Force National Operational HQ, said: “Clamping down on the export of undeclared cash from the UK is vital in our fight against organised criminal gangs.

"These convictions are the result of hard work and dedication from Border Force and the NCA to tackle dirty money that funds corruption and destroys lives.

“Those involved can be proud of their work and particularly those officers that intercepted and stopped these despicable individuals.”

John Werhun of the CPS said: “This is one of the largest money laundering cases the CPS has ever prosecuted to date.

“A colossal amount of dirty money, totalling £104million, was transported to Dubai under Alfalasi’s instructions.

“The evidence against Alfalasi was overwhelming, with invoices, declaration documents and images of cash-filled suitcases, pointing to his culpability.”

Among Alfalasi’s couriers were 55-year-old Nicola Esson, from Leeds, who was arrested following NCA raids in May 2021, and 29-year-old Muhammad Ilyas, from Slough, who was arrested in February 2020.

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

Ilyas was arrested by NCA officers at Heathrow Airport after arriving on a flight from Dubai. He had checked in four suitcases at the airport ten days earlier, one of which had gone missing, and declared almost £1.5 million in cash to Dubai Customs. The missing suitcase was subsequently found by Border Force officers, and contained £431,360 in cash.

Esson, Ilyas and Alfalasi pleaded guilty to money laundering charges at Isleworth Crown Court at earlier hearings.

Two other couriers linked to the same network have already been jailed following investigations by the NCA.

Tara Hanlon, 31, from Leeds, was detained by Border Force at Heathrow in October 2020 as she attempted to leave the country with suitcases containing almost £2 million. She later admitted smuggling another £3.5 million out of the UK in other trips, and was sentenced to 34 months in jail in July 2021.

Czech national Zdenek Kamaryt, 39, was also stopped at Heathrow in November 2020. He was attempting to board a flight to Dubai carrying £1.4 million. Kamaryt pleaded guilty to 3 counts of money laundering and was jailed for 34 months in March last year.