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Organised crime gang jailed for £1.5 million money laundering fraud

  • Members of an organised crime gang, have been sentenced to a total of over 23 years in prison.
  • A City of London Police investigation uncovered a UK-wide money muling network linked to drugs trafficking.
  • The gang used bank account details of foreign students to transfer illicit funds of £1.5 million.

On Monday 8 April, the final member of an organised crime gang was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court for conspiracy to conceal, convert, disguise, transfer and remove criminal property, contrary to Section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977:

  • Rongzhu Wei was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for 2 years along with 250 community service.
The other seven members of the gang were sentenced on Wednesday 13 March 2019:
  • Hai Bin Xue, 30, of Jasper Road, London, E16, was sentenced to 3 years 10 months after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court on 6 July 2018.

  • Shiqiang Wang, 29, of Varley Road, London, E16, was sentenced to 3 years 10 months after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court on 6 July 2018.

  • Xiao Jie Wu, 26, of Ryecroft Road, London, SE13, sentenced to 2 years suspended and 250 hours community service after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court on 24 September 2018.
  • Jinhui Wang, 40, of Ryecroft Road, London, SE13, was sentenced to 3 years 10 months after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court on 18 February 2019.

  • Qin Gao, 32, previously of Catford, London, SE6, was sentenced to 2 years 11 months after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court on 18 February 2019.
  • Jie Zheng, 27, of Harston Walk, London, E3, was sentenced to 4 years 6 months after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court on 20 February 2019.

  • Jiaming Chen, 27, of Harston Walk, London, E3, was sentenced to 3 years 10 months after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court on 20 February 2019. Chen was sentenced to 10 months for the additional charge of possession of false identity document with improper intention, contrary to Section 4(1) and (2) of the Identity Documents Act 2010 after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court on 10 September 2018. The sentences will run consecutively.

Uncovering the fraud

In April 2017, Santander’s fraud investigators identified a significant increase in the amount of cash transferred through bank accounts at three of its branches in Lewisham, Catford and London Bridge. These bank accounts were being used to send more cash payments into other accounts elsewhere in the country than any of their other branches in the UK.

Bank staff identified a man regularly entering the three Santander branches in question to transfer cash into bank accounts held by foreign nationals across England, Wales and Scotland. He was identified as Jie Zheng when he provided a phone number to a cashier at the London Bridge branch in December 2017. A search of Santander’s database linked the phone number to Priestwood Square, Bracknell.

Following liaison with Santander, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Joint Fraud Taskforce (JFT), the 
City of London Police’s Money Laundering Investigation Unit (MLIU) took on the case, as part of the Joint Fraud Taskforce Collective Response (JFTCR), in February 2018.

Between February and April 2018, Santander reviewed all third party payments into the three South London branches. The review identified a pattern that involved the same group of suspects all using the same method as Zheng. Qin Gao was seen on CCTV visiting the branches to carry out transactions in excess of £470,000.

In total, there were 460 third party accounts used to facilitate the money transfers by this highly organised money laundering network. A number of these accounts belonged to foreign students or former students who had since returned home. A large proportion of the money was then paid into business accounts and subsequently into online payment services and top up credit cards based overseas.

Investigating the fraud

The investigation by the City of London Police revealed that Zheng was not living at Priestwood Square, Bracknell and was in fact living in Harston Walk, E3, London. This address was used as a cash safe house and was visited by numerous cars which dropped off large bags and suitcases containing cash. These vehicles were linked to organised crime groups involved in offences such as drugs trafficking at locations across the UK. Jinhui Wang was found to have facilitated much of this activity at this address. Hai Bin Xue and Shiqiang Wang were found to have transported cash between numerous other addresses. Jiaming Chen was found in possession of forged passports.

On 7 June 2018, City of London Police officers executed search warrants at the six home addresses of the gang.  Cash totalling £962,349 was seized along with mobile phones and money counting machines. At Shiqiang Wang’s address (E16) officers recovered several cash deposit receipts, designer goods and further money counting machines. All eight suspects were arrested on the same day and subsequently charged on 9 June 2018.

Detective Chief Inspector Andrea Williams, Head of the City of London Police's Financial Investigations Unit, said: 

“The sheer scale of this highly organised network led to a complex investigation supported by Santander and a number of partner agencies.

“Thanks to the professionalism and diligence of City of London Police officers, we have been able to put a stop to their extensive crimes.”

Detective Constable Ray Eaglesmith, who led the investigation, said:

“These criminal individuals were caught trying to both cheat the system and evade detection, while moving vast amounts of money out of the UK.

“Depriving criminals of their wealth disrupts organised crime. We will continue to bring offenders to justice and hit them in the pocket.”

Karen Tyler, Head of Fraud at Santander, said:

“This case is a clear demonstration of how important it is for banks and the police to work together in the ongoing war on financial crime.

“Santander will always support any police investigation into potential criminal activity, and we’re pleased that the individuals involved in this case have been brought to justice.”

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