Frequent-Flyer Miles Lead to Crackdown on $131 Million Money-Laundering Scheme

UK investigators successfully dismantled an international money-laundering scheme, seizing more than £104 million (about $131 million) in cash smuggled from London to Dubai during 83 trips. The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed that the operation involved collecting cash, believed to be proceeds from drug dealing, packing it into suitcases (each containing approximately $500,000), and transporting it to Dubai.

Key Details:

  1. Courier Convictions: Two couriers were recently found guilty in a London court, bringing the total number of individuals convicted to 16 connected to the money-laundering operation.
  2. Modus Operandi: The couriers collected cash from criminal groups across the UK, packing it into suitcases. Couriers communicated via WhatsApp groups, with one named “Sunshine and Lollipops.” They were paid up to £5,000 for each trip and booked business-class seats for the extra luggage allowance.
  3. Frequent-Flyer Miles Connection: The ringleader, Abdullah Alfalasi, booked the couriers’ flights using his Emirates credit card. Authorities traced the operation through the Emirates Skywards frequent-flyer miles Alfalasi earned, leading to the identification and crackdown on the money-laundering scheme.
  4. Convictions: Mehdi Amrollahbibiyouki and Ali Al-Nawab, couriers involved in the operation, were found guilty. Amrollahbibiyouki checked in 12 suitcases containing £4.3 million, while Al-Nawab transported nine suitcases with £3.2 million.
  5. Sentencing: Amrollahbibiyouki and Al-Nawab are set to be sentenced on March 8. Abdullah Alfalasi, the ringleader, was sentenced in July 2022 to over nine years in jail.
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Investigative Outcome:

The NCA’s successful dismantlement of the money-laundering network highlights the effectiveness of tracing financial transactions, including frequent-flyer miles earned from booked flights. Using technology, such as WhatsApp, and innovative methods by criminals necessitates advanced investigative techniques for law enforcement.

This case underscores the importance of collaboration between law enforcement agencies and private entities, such as airlines, to effectively identify and combat financial crimes. The ongoing investigation indicates that more individuals involved in the scheme are under scrutiny, emphasising the comprehensive nature of efforts to eradicate illicit financial activities.


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