Mastermind jailed as £350,000 found in flat
How London has become a magnet for money launderers
Police have broken a largescale money-laundering operation involving millions of pounds, finally jailing its Isle of Dogs mastermind this week.
Scotland Yard watched as couriers swapped bags of cash in car parks in Poplar and Lewisham and when they swooped on ringleader Quaojun Lou at his East Ferry Road home in June last year, they found more than £350,000 in cash, in different denominations, wrapped in elastic bands and stuffed into boxes.
On the mobile of phone of 38-year-old ringleader at Peninsula Court, police found evidence that Lou and his associates siphoned millions into Bank of China accounts for mystery underworld clients.
This week he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years.
He had changed his plea to guilty after hearing charges of seven counts of money-laundering at Snaresbrook Crown Court. Other members of the gang, from Brentwood, Liverpool, and south London were received sentences ranging from a 20-week suspended term to 16 months behind bars.
One of the couriers, Barry Nixon, 55, was found to have more than £300,000 of cash at his home address in Essex.
The Met’s Det Con Chris Woods, said: “Criminals will go to great lengths to launder the proceeds of their crimes but we will go to greater lengths to disrupt their networks.”
Money-laundering has become a significant crime in London with the proliferation of financial institutions, foreign exchanges, cash property deals and, crucially, access to people skilled in accounting trickery.
Head of money laundering at the National Crime Agency David Little said: “High-end money laundering is a big focus for us.
“The people who are setting these structures up are very clever and have access to highly-skilled people.
“We don’t know what the true amount is but it’s in the tens or hundreds of billions. It’s a truly terrifying number.”
The disruption of the east London network comes just days after the City of London Police revealed it had arrested a 58-year-old man in possession of bankers’ drafts worth £30million in what is believed to be the biggest ever money seizure made by UK law enforcement.
Det Insp Craig Mullish, from the City of London Police’s money laundering unit, said: “We believe this man’s business account was being used by a global network of organised crime operators to launder tens of millions of pounds of stolen funds through the UK and then out into bank accounts around the world.”
While blue chip organisations such as Wharf-based HSBC have paid millions in fines for money laundering for “drug kingpins and rogue nations”, dealers further down the food chain are adopting new methods to clean their cash.
MPs heard on Tuesday that high street Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are increasingly being used to clean cash. MPs were told that in one case in West Yorkshire case, the police uncovered £18,000 of FOBT tickets being held by one drug dealer.
Drug dealers pump money into the machine, gamble a little, then cash out with a printed ticket which explains to police why they’re strolling around with rolls of notes.
Even the Gambling Commission has admitted privately that “a retail betting model that includes high volumes of cash transactions, particularly where this includes low individual spend and a high level of anonymity, presents an inherent money laundering risk”.
MP Carolyn Harris said on Tuesday: “The machines have few filters and the money launderers know how to work within the limits. Supervision is low and CCTV is poor, so it is a haven – for money launderers.
MP Jim McMahon said: “Let’s face it, if someone wants to find a way of cleaning money, losing 10% of it through one of these machines is not a bad transactional cost.”
‘We don’t know what the true amount is but it’s in the tens of billions. It’s a truly terrifying figure’
Quaojun Lou and, below, money found at his Isle of Dogs flat
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals