Belfast Telegraph

Crime gang accused of using Belfast bank branch to launder £16m

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

By Alan Erwin

An international crime gang allegedly used a bank branch in Belfast to launder £16million in cash across the UK, a court heard on Wednesday.

Police claimed up to 8,000 separate transactions were made, involving bundles being deposited and forwarded to 3,500 different accounts.

One mother-of-two accused of involvement in the racket allegedly transferred more than £2m herself.

As four men and five women appeared before Belfast Magistrates' Court on charges linked to the investigation, District Judge Peter King said: "The amounts are eye-watering."

The defendants, all Chinese nationals and aged between 34 and 67, face counts of possessing and transferring criminal property, along with conspiracy to conceal, remove and convert criminal property.

The were among 11 people arrested earlier this week and charged with alleged offences committed between January 30, 2018 and July 1 this year.

Two men were remanded in custody on similar charges on Tuesday.

A detective sergeant said a financial institution had become suspicious that a branch in Belfast was being used to launder money.

She disclosed that the investigation centred on an ATM system where cash was deposited into 22 customer accounts, with details entered for the sums to be moved on to thousands of other accounts.

CCTV footage allegedly shows gang members making transactions from 9.30am to 4.30pm every day for a three-month period, the court heard.

According to police £15.9m in cash was processed during the entire operation.

In one 24 hour period alone almost £200,000 was said to have been paid in.

One of the accused, 34-year-old Ling Ling Zheng, of Vernon Street in Belfast, allegedly carried out 1,160 of the overall deposits, involving a total of nearly £2.2m.

Her barrister, Declan Quinn, argued that she was no "Mrs Big" and risked having her two children taken into care if denied bail.

"This is a lady whose actions bare all the hallmarks of somebody being used as a pawn in a wider operation," he said.

Another accused, 38-year-old Yun Chen, of Ulsterville Avenue in the city, allegedly used her debit card to make 440 deposits totaling around £1m between January and May this year.

Her lawyer, Tom McCreanor, told the court she claims to have acted under duress.

"She said there were threats made to her and her family," counsel said.

Police also revealed that more than £100,000 in cash was seized during a series of searches linked to the investigation.

Other suspected members of what was described as an international, organised crime gang have yet to be identified, the court was told.

Remanding all nine defendants in custody, Mr King refused bail applications mounted by five of them.

Citing the risk of re-offending and interference with witnesses, he said: The tentacles of an alleged wider conspiracy has stretched all the way from China to Northern Ireland."

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