The ring leader of a criminal syndicate that smuggled millions of pounds in cash from London to Dubai on commercial flights has been jailed for nine years and seven months after a British court found guilty of money laundering.
47-year-old Mohammed Ali Bin Beyat Alfalasi arranged for couriers to fly Business Class with suitcases packed full of cash over an 11-month period in which the gang smuggled £104 million of criminal cash into the United Arab Emirates.
The Emirati ringleader was apprehended by officers from the elite National Crime Agency (NCA) last December at a plush apartment in London’s affluent Belgravia neighbourhood when he came to visit from his home in Dubai.
The NCA believes the bulk of the smuggled cash came from drug dealing and fraud but officers suspect some may have been linked to international terrorism and armed conflicts around the world.
To get the cash out of the UK and into the Emirates where it could be more easily laundered, Alfalasi recruited a group of couriers who were paid up to £8,000 per trip they made to Dubai.
The cash would be vacuum-packed and sprayed with coffee or air fresheners in an attempt to disguise the smell of the money from specialist cash sniffing dogs that patrol London’s Heathrow airport.
Each suitcase would contain as much as £500,000 and weigh 40 kilos. The couriers always travelled Business Class because of the extra luggage allowance it afforded.
“This money laundering network smuggled astronomical sums of money out of the UK, and is one of the largest we’ve ever investigated,” commented NCA senior investigating officer Ian Truby on Thursday following Alfalasi’s sentencing.
“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.”
The NCA has been targeting the Dubai route because cash can be so easily laundered in the UAE. The international anti-money laundering body, the Financial Action Task Force placed the UAE on its so-called “gray list” of countries that aren’t doing enough to stop criminals in March.
“The evidence against Alfalasi was overwhelming, with invoices, declaration documents and images of cash-filled suitcases, pointing to his culpability,” commented prosecutor John Werhun from the Crown Prosecution Service.
One of Alfalasi’s couriers, 55-year-old Nicola Esson made three trips to Dubai with a total of 19 suitcases weighing almost half a tonne combined. A second courier, Muhammad Ilyas, declared almost £1.5 million in cash to Dubai Customs on arrival in the emirate.
He had checked in four suitcases at Heathrow but one went missing. When the suitcase was eventually tracked down it was opened by Border Force officers who discovered £431,360 in cash rammed inside.
Alfalasi hid his criminal enterprise through a legitimate gold trading business in his name. His syndicate collected cash from criminal groups across Britain and transported it to counting houses in Central London.
The syndicate took a 10 per cent cut from any money smuggled, meaning Alfalasi’s group netted around £12 million in less than a year.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.