UK money-laundering ring used network of women including ‘Kim Kardashian lookalike’ to smuggle cash to UAE

The National Crime Agency’s investigation into Tara Hanlon, 30, began in October 2020 when she was prevented from boarding a flight from Heathrow to Dubai. (NCA)
The National Crime Agency’s investigation into Tara Hanlon, 30, began in October 2020 when she was prevented from boarding a flight from Heathrow to Dubai. (NCA)
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Updated 29 July 2022

UK money-laundering ring used network of women including ‘Kim Kardashian lookalike’ to smuggle cash to UAE

UK money-laundering ring used network of women including ‘Kim Kardashian lookalike’ to smuggle cash to UAE
  • Abdulla Alfalasi oversaw scheme to transport cash in suitcases on planes
  • National Crime Agency: ‘Network smuggled astronomical sums of money out of the UK’

LONDON: The UK’s biggest ever money-laundering case enlisted a network of 36 people, including a “Kim Kardashian lookalike” and other British women in white-collar jobs, to smuggle cash to the UAE.

The UK National Crime Agency discovered the scheme, which saw money sent to flats in central London from across the UK to be counted and packed into suitcases in quantities of up to £500,000 ($609,000) a time, each weighing around 40kg.

The bags would be packed with mouthwash and coat hangers to evade detection by X-ray machines, and sprayed with substances including coffee and air freshener to mask the smell and distract airport sniffer dogs. 

They would then be transported by the network of mules, who flew business class with the money to utilize extra baggage allowances, were paid up to £8,000 per trip for their services, and siphoned off at least 10 percent of the transported cash for themselves.

Among them were 30-year-old recruitment executive Tara Hanlon and 55-year-old communications professional Nicola Esson.

The latter made three trips to Dubai between August and September 2020, checking in 19 suitcases of cash weighing almost half a ton in total.

Hanlon, described as a “Kim Kardashian lookalike” by sections of the UK press, was arrested in Dubai in 2020 trying to return to London with several suitcases that she claimed were for outfits for a “girls’ holiday.”

A month later another mule, Czech national Zdenek Kamaryt, 39, was detained boarding a flight from Heathrow to Dubai with £1.3 million of cash in his bags. 

Another courier arrested was Muhammad Ilyas, who was detained after declaring four suitcases containing around £1.5 million in cash to customs in Dubai.

One of them, containing £431,360, went missing and was subsequently discovered by the UK Border Force.

In total, £104 million was ferried over the course of a year. Some of the cash was transferred into cryptocurrencies and laundered through gold operations in Africa.

It was Hanlon’s arrest that sparked the investigation, eventually leading to the group’s ringleader Abdulla Alfalasi, who was arrested at a London flat owned by an offshore company registered in the British territory of Gibraltar.

He was found to have traveled extensively between London and Dubai between November 2019 and March 2020, carrying £6 million in cash himself.

His signature was discovered on documents purporting to relate to a company called Omnivest Gold Trading, which was used as a front for cash declarations.

Prosecutor Julian Christopher QC, speaking at Isleworth crown court in west London, said that Alfalasi enlisted British woman Michelle Clarke to recruit the couriers, who were “typically young people, attracted by the money.”

Hanlon was sentenced to 34 months in prison in 2021. Esson and Ilyas will be sentenced later this year.

Alfalasi, 47, was sentenced to nine years and seven months in jail for sending money acquired through criminal activities to Dubai.

Judge Simon Davis told Alfalasi: “There is no doubt that this was a considerable network under your charge, not your sole charge, you were a principal but it is clear that there were others involved.”

Ian Truby, the NCA’s senior investigating officer, said: “This money-laundering network smuggled astronomical sums of money out of the UK … Cash is the lifeblood of organized crime groups, which they reinvest into activities such as drug trafficking, which fuels violence and insecurity around the world. Disrupting the supply of such illicit cash is a priority for the NCA and our partners.”


Yemenis elated as 5 Taiz policewomen handed key security roles

Yemenis elated as 5 Taiz policewomen handed key security roles
Updated 02 February 2023

Yemenis elated as 5 Taiz policewomen handed key security roles

Yemenis elated as 5 Taiz policewomen handed key security roles
  • The five were given roles at sites and police stations in the Taiz Security Department as part of a security overhaul
  • The appointments were intended to empower women in security roles as part of a push to end the disorder and lawlessness that has plagued Taiz

AL-MUKALLA: Five Yemeni policewomen were appointed to key security posts for the first time in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz, sparking excitement among gender equality advocates and the media.

The five were given roles at sites and police stations in the Taiz Security Department as part of a security overhaul that saw the appointment of 12 new security heads, said local officials.

The appointments were intended to empower women in security roles as part of a push to end the disorder and lawlessness that has plagued Taiz for years.

Second Lt. Amera Al-Bukaili, who was recently elevated to the role of deputy director of training for Taiz security, told Arab News that women’s fight for empowerment and senior positions had finally borne fruit.

“I am so delighted today. The appointments have restored a portion of our rights, which is something that should have occurred a long time ago,” she said.

A holder of a master’s degree in social science, Al-Bukaili has almost two decades’ experience in the security field. She was made second lieutenant in 2019, while her male counterparts with similar levels of experience and education were promoted to higher ranks, she added.

“When women hold positions of authority, they will have the capacity to influence and innovate. This is an opportunity to get more rights.”

The appointments have been welcomed by both men and women who have long advocated for the promotion of women to positions of power in the country.

Sara Qassem, a human rights activist from Taiz, characterized the appointments as “special milestones” toward granting women greater rights, urging other Yemeni provinces to follow suit by appointing women to crucial posts.

“We applaud this action, which is in response to efforts to empower women in politics, human rights, security and other areas,” Qassem told Arab News, adding that the move would improve security in Taiz at a time when the city is teetering on the brink of chaos and facing a renewed Houthi siege.

Journalist Zakaria Al-Sharabi agreed, saying that deploying policewomen to key security positions will enable operations in areas that are inaccessible to men due to social barriers. The appointees will also help in combating sexual harassment and other crimes against women, she added.

“Without a doubt, the participation of women in the police force is critical, since many police duties and services, particularly those involving women, children, harassment offenses and juvenile protection need the presence of women,” Zakaria said.

Human rights and gender equality campaigners in Yemen say that women’s rights have been trampled upon and abandoned throughout the country’s civil war, particularly in Houthi-controlled regions, where the militia restricts women’s freedom of movement and other rights.

The Houthis have prohibited women from traveling between Yemeni cities without a male companion or mahram, according to observers in Sanaa.

Women also report that some service departments no longer assist unaccompanied women.

Angela Abu-Asba, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Sanaa, said that a technician at an auto repair shop in Sanaa refused to fix her vehicle because she was unaccompanied by a male guardian.

“He said that women are not permitted to enter without a mahram. Bring your mahram and come. I told him, oppressively and bitterly, that my father was in Ibb and my brother was at work,” Abu-Asba said on Facebook.

She later deleted the social media post over fears of Houthi reprisal, with the militia frequently targeting critics from the public sector and elsewhere.


Egypt officials: Hospital fire in Cairo kills 3, injures 32

Egypt officials: Hospital fire in Cairo kills 3, injures 32
Updated 01 February 2023

Egypt officials: Hospital fire in Cairo kills 3, injures 32

Egypt officials: Hospital fire in Cairo kills 3, injures 32
  • The fire took place at the Noor Mohammadi hospital in eastern Cairo’s Matariya neighborhood
  • Firefighters were able to put out the blaze

CAIRO: A fire broke out Wednesday at a hospital in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, killing at least three people and injuring at least 32 others, health authorities said.
The Health Ministry said the fire took place at the Noor Mohammadi hospital in eastern Cairo’s Matariya neighborhood. The facility is run by a charity.
The ministry said in a statement that flames broke out at the hospital’s radiology department without elaborating on what caused it. Provincial authorities said firefighters were able to put out the blaze.
Health Minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar said the injured patients suffered from burns, fractures and smoke inhalation. They were transferred to other hospitals in Cairo.
He said the causality tally was a preliminary one, suggesting it could increase.
Safety standards and fire regulations are poorly enforced in Egypt and have been linked to many deaths. A 2020 fire at an intensive care unit at a private hospital in Cairo killed seven coronavirus patients.


Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor

Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor
Updated 01 February 2023

Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor

Militants kill eight soldiers in northwest Syria: monitor
  • "HTS fired shells and rockets at a Syrian military post, killing eight soldiers," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said
  • The Idlib region is home to about three million people, around half of them displaced

BEIRUT: Eight Syrian soldiers were killed in the country’s northwest on Wednesday in an attack carried out by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham militant group, a war monitor reported.
“HTS fired shells and rockets at a Syrian military post, killing eight soldiers near Kafr Ruma in Idlib province,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
HTS is headed by ex-members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.
Syrian state media did not immediately report the attack.
About half of the northwestern province of Idlib and areas bordering the neighboring provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia are dominated by HTS and other rebel factions.
The Idlib region is home to about three million people, around half of them displaced.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that since the end of 2022, the militants “have intensified operations against regime forces in Idlib... in the context of a rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus.”
He said exchanges of fire and clashes between regime forces and militant factions had killed 63 people since the start of the year, 45 of them pro-regime forces. One of the 18 militants was a French national.
Ankara became a sworn enemy of Damascus when it began backing rebel efforts to topple Assad at the start of the civil war.
But in late December the defense ministers of Turkiye and Syria held landmark negotiations in Moscow — the first such meeting since 2011.
The mooted reconciliation has alarmed Syrian opposition leaders and supporters who reside mostly in parts of the war-torn country under Ankara’s indirect control.
President Bashar Assad said in January that a Moscow-brokered rapprochement with Turkiye should aim for “the end of occupation” by Ankara of parts of Syria.
Turkiye has military bases in northern Syria and backs some local groups fighting the regime and against Syrian Kurdish forces which it considers “terrorist” groups.
Ankara has never publicly backed hard-line group HTS but is believed to coordinate with its forces.
HTS, which is sanctioned by the UN as a terrorist organization, formally broke ties with Al-Qaeda in 2016 and incorporated a number of smaller Syrian rebel factions in a major re-branding effort.
Widely seen as the strongest and best organized of Syria’s rebel groups, it has presented itself as the mainstay of Syria’s opposition.
With Russian and Iranian support, Damascus has clawed back much of the ground lost in the early stages of Syria’s conflict, which erupted in 2011 when Assad’s government brutally repressed pro-democracy protests.
The war has killed nearly half a million people since it broke out over a decade ago, displacing almost half of Syria’s pre-war population.
Despite periodic clashes, a cease-fire reached in 2020 by Moscow and Turkiye has largely held in the northwest.


Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem

Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem
Updated 01 February 2023

Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem

Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem
  • Properties were razed in the city’s Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods on Wednesday
  • Residents of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar are staging a sit-in amid fears they will be displaced after a final deadline to leave the village expired

RAMALLAH: Israeli authorities have stepped up their demolitions of Palestinian homes in parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, following a policy formulated by extreme right-wing ministers in the country’s new government, local leaders say.
On Wednesday, Israeli bulldozers knocked down buildings in the Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Rights activists urged people to publicly denounce the demolitions by posting messages on social media sites such as Twitter using the hashtag #Stop_Demolishing_Jerusalem.
They also called on the Palestinian Authority, the international community and global institutions to intervene immediately to force Israel to halt the demolitions and displacements that threaten the Palestinian community in Jerusalem.
Since the beginning of this January, occupation forces have razed 30 homes in a number of the historic city’s neighborhoods. Last year, 211 Palestinian homes were demolished in Jerusalem.
In the village of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, a sit-in protest by villagers and activists from the Palestinian Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission continued for a second day on Wednesday.
Residents of the village and surrounding Bedouin communities fear Israeli authorities will demolish their homes, after a final six-month deadline for them to leave expired on Wednesday.
Eid Khamis Jahalin, a Bedouin leader from Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, told Arab News that people are scared that Israeli bulldozers will destroy the village and displace its 250 residents.
“The electoral program of both Itamar Bin-Gvir (the new Israeli national security minister) and Bezalel Yoel Smotrich (the minister of finance) is based on the demolition of Al-Khan Al-Hamar and the displacement of its inhabitants,” he said.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, from the Palestine Liberation Organization, called on the international community to intervene immediately to halt the demolitions carried out by Israeli occupation forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which he described as a continuation of a policy of displacement and “apartheid.” He said the Palestinian leadership would meet on Friday to discuss ways to respond.
Elsewhere, Israeli army forces continued to besiege Jericho, in the eastern West Bank, for a fifth day on Wednesday as they searched for two young men responsible for an attempted gun attack on a settlers’ restaurant at the entrance to the city five days ago.
Critics accused Israeli authorities of imposing a collective punishment policy in the city by obstructing the free movement of residents, searching their cars and checking their identities, resulting in long queues and people being stuck in their vehicles for hours.
Journalist Adel Abu Nima from Jericho told Arab News that the Israeli army on Saturday set up military checkpoints at all main entrances to Jericho city and its camps, Aqbat Jabr and Ein Al-Sultan, and blocked secondary entrances with mounds of earth, causing great disruption to the lives of city residents and visitors.
“Some citizens and workers wait at the Israeli military checkpoints for four hours, and some are prevented from leaving Jericho,” Abu Nima said.
Jericho is the only place from which 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank can travel to other countries, so the checkpoints have affected people traveling abroad and those who are returning.
“As a journalist covering the events in West Bank, including Jenin and Nablus, I have not seen such Israeli military measures against entire cities as is happening now against Jericho,” Abu Nima said.
Meanwhile, an Israeli human rights organization has accused Israeli authorities of tolerating settler violence against Palestinians for more than 17 years.
Yesh Din said in a report published on Feb. 1 that only 3 percent of cases of ideological crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank during that time resulted in convictions and 93 percent of cases were closed with no indictment filed.
Data contained in the report showed that between 2005 and 2022, Israeli police failed to investigate 81.5 percent of alleged crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property.
The researchers said: “The state of Israel is evading its duty to protect Palestinians from Israelis who seek to harm them in the West Bank, as international law requires.
“Yesh Din’s long-term monitoring of the results of police investigations into incidents of ideological crime committed by Israelis demonstrates the enduring systemic failures of the Israeli authorities to enforce the law on Israeli civilians who harm Palestinians and their property in occupied territory.
“The fact that this systemic failure has persisted for at least two decades indicates that this is a deliberate policy of the state of Israel, which normalizes ideological settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, supports it and then reaps the rewards resulting from it.”
In another development, the Israeli Cabinet is due to discuss a decision to stop recognizing degrees awarded by Palestinian universities.
Avi Dichter, the Israeli agriculture minister, who previously was chief of the Israeli spy agency Shin Bet, said: “During the studies of Palestinian students from Israel in Palestinian universities, they are exposed to anti-Israel materials and messages, with which they return to the country and pass on to their students.”
Sheeran Haskel, a member of the Likud Party, claimed that more than 20 percent of teachers in Arab schools in Israel had graduated from Palestinian universities “after they absorbed the implications of portraying Israel as an enemy.”
Thousand of Palestinians who live in Israel study at universities in the West Bank.


IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup

IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup
Updated 01 February 2023

IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup

IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup
  • IAEA found the change during an unannounced inspection on Jan. 21 at the Fordow Fuel enrichment Plant
  • Fordow is so sensitive that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers banned enrichment there

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog criticized Iran on Wednesday for making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced machines enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to weapons grade, at its Fordow plant.
The International Atomic Energy Agency found the change during an unannounced inspection on Jan. 21 at the Fordow Fuel enrichment Plant (FFEP), a site dug into a mountain where inspectors are stepping up checks after Iran said it would dramatically expand enrichment.
Fordow is so sensitive that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers banned enrichment there. Since the United States pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Iran, the Islamic Republic has breached many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities.
In a confidential report to member states seen by Reuters, the IAEA did not say how the interconnection between the two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges had been changed except that “they were interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran (to the IAEA).”
In a public statement summarising that confidential report, the IAEA said its chief Rafael Grossi “is concerned that Iran implemented a substantial change in the design information of FFEP in relation to the production of high-enriched uranium without informing the Agency in advance.”
“This is inconsistent with Iran’s obligations under its Safeguards Agreement and undermines the Agency’s ability to adjust the safeguards approach for FFEP and implement effective safeguards measures at this facility.”
The IAEA has had regular access to Fordow to carry out verification activities like inspections and it is in talks with Iran on stepping up those activities, the report said.
“The Agency and Iran have continued their discussions. The Agency has increased the frequency and intensity of its verification activities at FFEP. However, some other safeguards measures are still required and are being discussed with Iran,” the report added.