Belfast Telegraph

Belfast student bank accounts used in £16m laundering operation, court hears

Police claimed up to 8,000 separate transactions were made.
Police claimed up to 8,000 separate transactions were made.

By Alan Erwin

Dormant student bank accounts opened in Belfast were used as part of an alleged £16million money laundering operation, the High Court heard.

Prosecutors claimed a Chinese crime gang took them over after compatriots studying in the city had completed degree courses and returned home.

Details emerged as bail was granted to two women accused of involvement in depositing bundles of cash to be spread across the UK.

Ling Ling Zheng, 34, of Vernon Street, and 38-year-old Yun Chen, from Ulsterville Avenue - both in Belfast - were among 11 people arrested last week following a major police investigation.

They both face charges of possessing and transferring criminal property, along with conspiracy to conceal, remove and convert criminal property.

The alleged racket involved up to 8,000 transactions on 22 separate customer accounts at a city centre branch of an undisclosed bank between January 2018 and May 2019.

According to detectives lodgments were made through an ATM system on a daily basis for hours at a time, with details entered for the money to be forwarded on to 3,500 other accounts.

Crown lawyer Kate McKay said some of the customer accounts were Chinese students who had left them dormant after going back home to continue their careers.

"They are believed to have been taken over by these people (in the gang)," the barrister said.

A total of £15.9m suspected to be the proceeds of unspecified crime was passed through the accounts.

Zheng, a mother-of-two, is accused of carrying out 1,160 of the total deposits, involving nearly £2.2m in cash.

Her barrister, Declan Quinn, argued that she appears to have been used by "more sophisticated and dangerous individuals".

Insisting his client has no trappings of wealth, Mr Quinn argued that her children could be taken into care if she remains in custody.

He added: "This lady is now effectively burned, she is of no use to a criminal gang."

Chen allegedly used her debit card to make 440 deposits totaling around £1m, the court heard.

But her counsel contended that she acted under duress amid threats to her family.

"Specifically she was told this criminal gang knew the movements of her 13-year-old daughter," Nicki Rountree submitted.

Granting bail to both accused on £10,000 sureties, Madam Justice McBride held that the risk of flight could be managed based on their family circumstances.

She ordered both women to report daily to police and banned them from entering the bank at the centre of the investigation.

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