Six members of a money laundering network, which transported over £100 million out of the UK to the UAE, have received sentences following an investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Between November 2019 and October 2020, the network carried the cash to Dubai in 83 separate trips. The operation was overseen by ringleader Abdullah Alfalasi, 48, who was imprisoned for more than nine years in July last year.

The couriers, who were paid approximately £3,000 per trip and were booked on business class flights for the extra luggage allowance, communicated through WhatsApp groups, including one titled ‘Sunshine and lollipops’.

Beatrice Auty, 27, from London; Jonathan Johnson, 55, and Jo Emma Larvin, 44, both from Ripon in North Yorkshire; and Amy Harrison, 28, from Worcester Park in Surrey, were convicted after a trial at Isleworth Crown Court on 26th April this year.

Two other couriers from the same network, Nicola Esson, 56, from Leeds, and Muhammad Ilyas, 30, from Slough, were convicted in previous hearings and sentenced alongside them on 12th July.

Nicola Esson was arrested in May 2021 and travelled from Heathrow to Dubai on three occasions in August and September 2020. She checked in 19 suitcases weighing almost half a tonne combined.

Muhammad Ilyas was arrested by NCA officers at Heathrow Airport in February 2020 after arriving on a flight from Dubai. Ten days prior to his arrest, he had checked in four suitcases at the airport, one of which went missing. He declared nearly £1.5 million in cash to Dubai Customs. The missing suitcase was later found by Border Force officers and contained £431,360. He had made a previous trip in January 2021, declaring £1 million on that occasion.

At Isleworth Crown Court, Auty was sentenced to 42 months imprisonment, Johnson received a 12-month suspended sentence for two years, Larvin received a 24-month suspended sentence for two years, Harrison received a 24-month suspended sentence for two years, Esson received a 22-month suspended sentence for two years, and Ilyas received a 15-month suspended sentence for two years.

Adrian Searle, Director of the National Economic Crime Centre in the NCA, stated:

“The laundering of such vast quantities of cash around the globe enables organised criminals and corrupt elites to clean or hide their ill-gotten gains.

“Cash smugglers work on behalf of international controller networks, who move the finances of the international drug trade, people traffickers, fraudsters and other criminal groups.

“This case demonstrates the continued commitment to crackdown on money laundering and target organised crime groups who cause misery and ruin lives.”

Investigations revealed that Tara Hanlon, who was convicted in June 2021, had briefed another courier about the operation. This courier travelled from Heathrow to Dubai on three occasions in August and September 2020, checking in 18 suitcases containing £6.8 million.

Auty, who was arrested during NCA raids in May 2021, followed the same route twice in July and August of that year. She checked in seven suitcases containing £3.4 million. Czech national Zdenek Kamaryt, who was convicted of money laundering in March 2021, accompanied her on the second trip.

Auty was involved in the logistical arrangements for another 16 trips. She assisted in packing cash into suitcases, accompanied travellers to Heathrow, and collected empty suitcases upon their return for reuse.

Larvin made two trips to Dubai in August and September 2020. On one trip with Amy Harrison, they carried seven cases containing £2.2 million. On another trip with her partner Jonathan Johnson, they carried eight suitcases containing £2.8 million. Larvin and Johnson were arrested at Manchester Airport in March 2022.

Harrison made three trips between July and September 2020, carrying 15 suitcases containing approximately £6 million.

The network collected cash from criminal groups across the UK, primarily derived from drug dealing. They then transported it to rented apartments in Central London, where counting houses were established. The money was vacuum packed and divided into suitcases, each typically holding around £500,000. The suitcases were sprayed with coffee or air fresheners to deter sniffer dogs from detecting them.

Ian Truby, senior investigating officer at the NCA, commented: “These couriers smuggled cash out of the UK on an industrial scale, at the behest of organised crime groups.

“They were prepared to travel out to the UAE for a holiday in the sun, in return for a cut of the profit.

“This case demonstrates the NCA’s commitment to targeting the criminal networks involved in money laundering.

“Profits are often re-invested into criminal activities such as drug trafficking. This fuels violence and insecurity in the UK and across the world, which is why our investigation continues.”