Birmingham: 60 Seconds – Cuckoo Smurfing – Drug Money Launders Jailed For 16 Years: SOCA

25 Feb

Three men have been jailed for their roles in an international money laundering racket which moved over a million pounds of drugs money every month.

The trio travelled around the UK collecting up to £160,000 at a time in plastic carrier bags from criminal associates. They made sure their meetings took place on residential street corners with no CCTV coverage and lasted no longer than 60 seconds in an attempt to avoid attention. Unbeknown to them, officers from SOCA were watching their every move.

Ghulam Abas Yuosifi, aged 32, Shafaq Ibrahimi, aged 24, and Mortaza Walizadah, aged 37, ran their racket out of a house in Great Barr, Birmingham. They were sentenced to a total of 16 years at Birmingham Crown Court last week after pleading guilty to money laundering offences. Deportation orders have been served on Yuosifi and Ibrahimi.

ghulam yuosifishafaq ibrahimi mortaza walizadah

The men used a method of money laundering known as cuckoo smurfing. Criminals replace legitimately obtained money, intended for legal transfer into bank accounts, with the proceeds of crime. The original untainted money can then be used overseas.

In this case, the men would receive text messages from criminal associates in Dubai, Afghanistan and Iran with instructions for picking up drugs money. Follow up faxes would detail how much to pay into the bank accounts of foreign students who were expecting money from back home. Their parents were unaware that the remitters they used to transfer money were corrupt.

Richard Watson, SOCA’s Head of Investigations in the Midlands, said:

“Serious organised criminals need specialist support services in order to do business, and anyone who assists them in this way is a target for SOCA. These men enabled drugs gangs to hide their money and settle debts with suppliers so they could continue their illegal activities. I’m delighted that we were able to gather enough evidence to put them in prison.

“This result is not just about securing convictions though. SOCA is determined to cause the maximum disruption to criminal activity, and the knock on effect of dismantling a well established money laundering racket will have interrupted deals, left debts unpaid, and created considerable problems for other criminals too. ”

The investigation, which led to a number of spin-off operations, began in August 2009 and has resulted in the seizure of over £600,000 and 20 kilos of heroin. The men were arrested two months later. Officers recovered a coded ledger of their financial transactions from the house they used as a warehouse to store the drugs money before it was banked.

Tactics the men used to avoid arousing suspicion included visiting numerous high street banks across the West Midlands to pay in the money in small amounts. They also dressed in business attire in an attempt to provide a plausible front for their prolific banking activities.

Four other criminals who worked for the drugs gangs and delivered cash to the men were also arrested during the course of the investigation. All pleaded guilty to the same money laundering offences. Two were jailed last week and the other two will be sentenced at a later date.

SOCA received assistance from the UK Border Agency and the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Merseyside and Essex police forces.


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