A network of couriers who smuggled more than £100 million ($124 million) of criminal cash in suitcases from the UK to Dubai was found guilty following a trial of one of the largest money laundering scams ever recorded.
In total 11 couriers have been convicted alongside the ringleader, the National Crime Agency said Wednesday. In less than a year, the couriers flew more than 80 flights, carrying cases full of drug money.
The group communicated on a WhatsApp group called Sunshine and Lollipops.
The couriers were given business class flights to take advantage of a larger luggage allowance and check in closer to the departure time, investigators said.
Around £500,000 was crammed into suitcases that were then packed with coffee granules or sprayed with air freshener to disguise the scent from sniffer dogs.
British police have targeted London to Dubai laundering routes, concerned that criminal cash becomes much harder to trace once it’s taken out of the country.
The United Arab Emirates has been in the spotlight over dirty money flows and last March, the global financial crimes watchdog placed the country on a gray list for failing to do enough to uncover illicit funds. However, the country has taken steps to improve checks and balances within its financial system and is closely working with the FATF to deter future fraud attempts.
The money said to be cash from drug dealing, was collected from crime gangs around the UK before being counted in London, the NCA said. The couriers themselves were paid around £3,000 per trip.
These couriers were important cogs in a large money laundering wheel, Ian Truby, the NCA’s senior investigating officer, said in a statement. The crime group they belonged to was responsible for smuggling eye-watering amounts of criminal cash out of the UK, the statement added.