Two more convictions in £100 million ‘cash in suitcases’ conspiracy.

Two men from London have become the fifteenth and sixteenth members of a £100m+ money laundering network to be convicted, following a major National Crime Agency investigation into cash smuggling from the UK to the UAE.

Guilty verdicts were returned yesterday (11 January) on Ali Al-Nawab, 40, from Golders Green, London, and Mehdi Amrollahbibiyouki, 41, from Finchley, London, following a three-week trial at Isleworth Crown Court.

They were part of a network which smuggled more than £104 million during 83 separate London to Dubai trips between November 2019 and October 2020.

The criminal conspiracy was overseen by ringleader Abdullah Alfalasi, 48, who was jailed for more than nine years in July 2022.

Pictured: Mehdi Amarollahibiyouki (left) and Ali Al-Nawab (right)

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

“The money carried in these suitcases was directly linked to the harm and violence associated with organised crime.

“The very purpose of organised crime is to make money. By going after it and those who launder it, we are targeting the heart of the criminal business model.

“Those involved will now rightly also realise the consequences for them personally – a criminal conviction.”

Evidence gathered from Alfalasi’s phone showed that Al-Nawab and Amrollahbibiyouki both worked as cash couriers.

The couriers, who were paid up to £5,000 for each trip and would be booked on business class flights due to the extra luggage allowance, communicated on a number of WhatsApp groups including one named ’Sunshine and lollipops’.

Amrollahbibiyouki, who was arrested at his home address in April last year, made three trips to Dubai in February and March 2020, checking in 12 suitcases containing £4.3 million. 

Evidence on his phones revealed that he had also been responsible for counting and packaging criminal cash totalling £11.1 million for eight trips made by couriers, including the ones he made himself.

Al-Nawab was arrested in May 2022 as he was leaving the UK to travel to Turkey. He made two journeys in March 2020, checking in nine suitcases containing £3.2 million.

The network collected cash from criminal groups around the UK, which was believed to be the profits of drug dealing, and took it to counting houses, usually rented apartments in Central London.

The money was then vacuum packed and separated into suitcases which would typically each contain around £400,000, weighing around 40 kilos.

They were sprayed with coffee or air fresheners in an effort to prevent them being found by Border Force detection dogs.

NCA senior investigating officer Ian Truby said: “Al-Nawab and Amrollahbibiyouki were part of an industrial-scale money laundering operation that saw huge amounts of criminal cash smuggled out of the UK.

“Their convictions mark a further dismantlement of this prolific and extensive criminal network.

“Our investigation will not cease until all those involved are brought before the courts and made accountable for their crimes.”

Al-Nawab and Amrollahbibiyouki were convicted yesterday (11 January) and are due to be sentenced at the same court on 8 March.

Fourteen other couriers have been convicted previously.

The NCA investigation has been supported by Border Force and the UAE authorities. A number of British couriers are under investigation in the UAE and cannot leave until inquiries have been completed by UAE law enforcement.

Husband and wife arrested over alleged airline crew smuggling plot.

A couple have been arrested as part of a National Crime Agency investigation into cash smuggling and corruption involving airline employees.

The man, aged 49, and his wife, aged 53, were detained on suspicion of money laundering at their home address in Puttenham, near Guildford, Surrey, yesterday morning (10 January).

Around £15,000 cash was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act following searches of the property, along with high value items worth an estimated £150,000.

The pair are suspected of using airline staff to smuggle criminal cash and other high value items out of the UK via Heathrow Airport.

They remain in custody and are being questioned by NCA investigators.

To date, Border Force have seized around £150,000 in cash and goods worth £100,000 from aircraft crew, seizures the NCA are now investigating.

Senior Investigating Officer Barry Vinall, from the NCA’s International Corruption Unit, said:

“The NCA are actively seeking out those who aid criminal networks by using their insider knowledge and access to bypass border controls at port and airports, threatening the UK’s border security.

“We are also working to disrupt illicit cash flows, preventing organised criminals from laundering their money and re-investing it in further illegal activity.

“Our investigation into these alleged offences continues.”

Two men jailed after cocaine and cash seizures.

Two cocaine dealers – one of whom also hid £100,000 in cash inside a flat – have been jailed for a total of almost eight years.

Officers from the Organised Crime Partnership – a joint National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service unit – investigated Albanian nationals Orest Malushi, 44, from Barnet, and Olsian Vogli, 31, from Birmingham.

The pair were arrested beside Malushi’s car in Hendon, north London, in July last year by OCP officers who had them under surveillance.

Vogli had been seen entering and leaving a flat on Caversham Road that he used as a stash house shortly before the arrest.

OCP officers searched a black rucksack he was carrying, which contained half a kilo of cocaine.

They also found three mobile phones and a further two-and-a-half kilos of cocaine which had been hidden inside a specially adapted hide in the glovebox of Malushi’s car. 

More than £100,000 in cash and a mobile phone with several SIM cards were found after the apartment was searched.

Malushi and Vogli pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to supply during previous hearings at St Albans Crown Court, and were sentenced to two years and six months and five years and four months respectively at Harrow Crown Court (sitting at Willesden Magistrates’ Court) yesterday (9 January).

Andrew Tickner, from the Organised Crime Partnership, said:

“The cocaine supplied by Olsian Vogli and Orest Malushi was clearly generating large profits for the organised crime group they belonged to, as shown by the amount of cash we found in the apartment.

“The hide in Malushi’s car was ultimately a futile attempt to conceal his criminality, but shows the time and attention that drug suppliers will put into their criminal profession.

“The class A drugs trade fuels gang violence and suffering in the UK, which is why the NCA and Met Police’s strong partnership is at the forefront of dismantling the organised criminal groups behind it.”

Lorry driver jailed after NCA investigation.

A Lithuanian lorry driver has been sentenced to 14 years in prison after attempting to import cocaine worth £4.8 million into the UK.

Rimas Ekleris, aged 59, had 60kg of the drug hidden in his cab unit when he arrived at Immingham Dock on 19 August 2022, having travelled from Cuxhaven in Germany.

Acting on intelligence provided by the National Crime Agency, Border Force officers searched the vehicle and discovered the cocaine in a purpose-built concealment beneath the floor.

NCA investigators, working in conjunction with the Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau, obtained recordings of phone conversations that proved Ekleris had known about the packages, collected them from the supplier, and been instructed on how to open the secret compartment.

Ekleris was found guilty by a jury at Grimsby Crown Court on Monday 25 September 2023. He was sentenced at the same court yesterday (Thursday 4 January 2024) to 14 years in prison.

The wider organised crime group is subject to ongoing investigation in Lithuania, which is being supported by the National Crime Agency.

Carl Barrass, NCA Senior Investigating Officer, said:

“Despite maintaining his innocence throughout the trial, Rimas Ekleris was found guilty and now faces several years behind bars.

“Work by NCA officers, and by our partners at Border Force, was instrumental in not only detecting the sophisticated concealment, but proving that he was in on the plot from the start.

“Class A drugs ruin lives, and we are determined to prevent individuals like Ekleris from fuelling drug supply chains, causing untold harm to communities up and down the country.”

Danny Hewitt, Director, Border Force said:

“Our Border Force officers played a pivotal role in detecting and seizing millions of pounds worth of cocaine which ensured that this dangerous criminal was arrested and brought to justice.

“We remain committed to stopping dangerous drugs from entering the country. Our Border Force officers continue to work relentlessly to keep the public safe and our borders secure.”

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