Operation Impervial heralded by roar of PSNI jeeps in street
Curious residents gathered on a quiet street in north Belfast yesterday morning to speculate on why half a dozen police vehicles had pulled up outside their homes.
Others could be seen peeking through blinds, clutching their phones close to their ears, at around 10am.
"What's going on at your man's house," one woman whispered as dozens of officers gained access to a terraced property in the Shankill.
The sudden appearance of a heavily armed tactical support team - which was assisting the PSNI Economic Crime Unit's search - left a female who was in the house being targeted posing the same question.
The perplexed occupant quickly vacated the property with a young child to avoid getting in the way of officers, who had only just begun to rummage through the house in search of items of interest, mainly evidence of financial transactions.
She returned a short time later in a BMW to collect a small dog from the address and utter a string of profanities at a reporter who was standing outside.
Just a few minutes later a man was led away in handcuffs. He was one of three people arrested on suspicion of money laundering yesterday.
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A similar scenario was being played out at the same time on eight other streets, including areas of Poleglass in west Belfast and Craigavon.
The dramatic scenes signified that Operation Impervial was progressing as expected following meticulous planning.
Just a few hours earlier officers gathered for a morning briefing before a large convoy of police vehicles set off on a mission to catch suspected money mules in action.
Police, who are currently investigating around 200 separate individuals suspected of using personal bank accounts to clean money for criminals, hope the operation will help raise awareness of the tricks employed.
Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson also sought to warn offenders that they enable serious criminals to thrive and could be linked to human trafficking.
"Sometimes they'll phone a business claiming to be a supplier and provide 'new' bank account details," he said.
"They engage in a whole range of scams in order to get people to transfer money into their accounts. Then they'll take a percentage cut and pass the rest on to whoever they are acting for."
A 24-year-old man charged with money laundering and drugs-related offences is due to appear at Lisburn Magistrates Court on May 13.
A 29-year-old woman charged with money laundering, acquiring and converting criminal property, will appear in Laganside Court on the same day. Another man (31) has been released on police bail pending further enquiries.