| 9.6°C Belfast

Seven arrested as PSNI seize £215m of assets in money laundering probe

Around £215m in criminal assets has been seized in Northern Ireland by the PSNI ­- in one of the largest money laundering investigations in the UK.

Seven people were arrested after 15 properties were searched across the country over the last two days following an 18-month investigation.

Eight searches were carried out on Monday in Banbridge, Newry and Omagh, while another seven took place yesterday in Belfast, Banbridge, Newry and Ballymena.

A senior PSNI detective also said properties were raided in Crossmaglen and Fintona.

In one of Monday's searches at a farm close to Banbridge, five police vehicles were involved in a dawn raid at the property which had a number of CCTV cameras.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson described it as one of the most "significant live investigations into money laundering in the UK".

The £215m was laundered over the last eight years and has been linked to drugs, prostitution and human trafficking.

Six men aged between 33 and 67 and a 32-year-old woman were arrested during the two-day operation. They were all released on police bail pending further inquiries.

Under Operation Shambala, the PSNI's economic crime unit worked in collaboration with Garda economic crime bureau, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the National Crime Agency, the United Kingdom Financial Investigation Unit, HMRC and money laundering experts co-ordinated by the National Economic Crime Centre.

The criminal network involved was described as being on a "truly international scale", but "well known" organised crime groups on the island of Ireland - mainly in Northern Ireland - were at the forefront of the enterprise.

Close

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson

As a result of the international connections to the money laundering outfit, the PSNI has also been working with EuroPol and InterPol.

Speaking at the PSNI's headquarters yesterday, DCI Wilson explained that the £215m was deposited to thousands of banks across the UK and transferred out of the country through foreign exchange companies.

"This is a very large scale, very complex investigation," he said.

"The criminal monies that have been derived were put through fake companies that have been specifically set up in order to launder criminal money.

"This criminal money is filtered through these companies as products as if they were trading with products but these products don't actually exist. They are pretending to be legitimate companies but they are not.

"Money laundering is a critical enabler to organised crime and we believe that this criminal money has been derived from a range of organised crime and a number of organised crime groups."

Mr Wilson said Operation Shambala had significantly damaged the organised crime groups involved and stopped the money laundering network in its tracks.

However, he would not reveal any details of what had been seized by police during the searches.

He confirmed that police were tipped off about the criminal operation and said that the PSNI "had some idea" of who was involved before the investigation began.

"If you're involved in this we will go to these lengths and instigate these very large and complex investigations and we will catch you," he added.

DCI Wilson continued by saying that the PSNI is committed to tackling organised crime gangs and appealed to those with any information on such activity to come forward.

"We are committed to keeping people safe by robustly pursuing those who are involved in laundering criminally derived money and enabling criminals to access the profits gained from their involvement in a range of illegal activities," he said.

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph