Slough man helped smuggle 'astronomical sums of money' out of UK

Slough man helped smuggle 'astronomical sums of money' out of UK

Muhammad Ilyas, from Slough, helped smuggle 'astronomical sums of money' out of the UK

A Slough man who worked as part of a money laundering group which smuggled tens of millions of pounds of criminal cash out of the UK will soon find out his punishment.

Muhammad Ilyas, 29, from Waterbeach Road, was a courier for ringleader Abdullah Mohammed Ali Bin Beyat Alfalasi, 47, from Dubai, UAE.

Between them and other couriers, a total of £104million was smuggled from the UK to Dubai between November 2019 and October 2020.

Four of Alfalasi’s couriers have already been convicted as part of a National Crime Agency operation, which has been supported by the UK Border Force and Dubai Police, while others remain under investigation.

The cash was believed to be profits from drug dealing, and the couriers would pack hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time into suitcases.

They were each paid £3,000 - £8,000 per trip depending on how much cash they were smuggling.

Overall, the group took at least a 10 per cent cut from the money smuggled, so between them are likely to have made in excess of £12million from the venture.

Among Alfalasi’s couriers were Slough's Ilyas and 55-year-old Nicola Esson, from Leeds.

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 on May 18, May 27 and June 27 respectively.

Alfalasi (below) was sentenced to nine years in jail at the same court today (Thursday), with the remaining two due to be sentenced at a later date.

Alfalasi also made multiple cash trips himself between Dubai and the UK, from November 2019 to March 2020.

The network collected cash from criminal groups around the UK and took it to counting houses, usually rented apartments in central London.

The wads of bank notes were then vacuum packed and separated into suitcases which would each contain around £500,000, weighing around 40 kilos.

Each would be sprayed with coffee or air fresheners in an effort to prevent them being found by Border Force detection dogs, while the couriers flew business class due to the extra luggage allowance.

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

Tara Hanlon, 31, from Leeds, was sentenced to 34 months imprisonment in July 2021, and Czech national Zdenek Kamaryt, 39, was given the same sentence in March last year. 

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 it 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 can be derived from the drugs trade, fraud, other illegal commodities, and can even be associated with terrorism and conflicts around the world.

Adrian Searle, director of the NCA’s National Economic Crime Centre, added: "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."

John Werhun, of the Crown Prosecution Service, 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.”

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