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.”


Lebanese MPs to convene to elect new president, no consensus on candidate

Lebanese MPs to convene to elect new president, no consensus on candidate
Updated 30 min 25 sec ago

Lebanese MPs to convene to elect new president, no consensus on candidate

Lebanese MPs to convene to elect new president, no consensus on candidate

BEIRUT: Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri will call for a session to elect a new president on Sept. 29, state media reported, despite no political consensus on a candidate and dim chances of a sucessful vote.
President Michel Aoun’s six-year term ends on Oct. 31, and politicians have voiced concern about no successor being found — warning of even greater institutional deadlock given that Lebanon has also been without a fully functioning government since May.
The session will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, the state-run National News Agency reported.
The votes of two-thirds of lawmakers in the 128-member legislature are required for a candidate to be successful in the first round of voting, after which a simple majority suffices.
Aoun came to power after a 29-month presidential vacuum in which parliament was unable to agree on electing a president.
The stalemate ended with a series of deals that secured victory for Aoun and his powerful Iran-backed ally Hezbollah.
Aoun is limited to one term, and major political parties have not announced any agreement on his successor. 


100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll
Updated 27 September 2022

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

DAMASCUS: Syrian authorities have recovered 100 bodies from a Lebanese migrant boat that sank off Syria last week, state media reported about one of the deadliest recent shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean.
The first bodies were found last Thursday and only 20 people were rescued out of as many as 150 passengers.
“The number of victims of the Lebanese boat has reached 100 people so far after another body was recovered from the sea,” Syria’s official news agency SANA on Monday quoted the head of Syrian ports Samer Kbrasli as saying.
All survivors have been discharged from hospital, SANA said.
Nearly three years of deep economic crisis have turned Lebanon into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees desperate to flee rising poverty via dangerous sea voyages.
Those aboard the ship that sailed from Lebanon’s impoverished northern city of Tripoli were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included children and elderly people, the United Nations said.
Lebanon hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s civil war and has been mired in a financial and economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi described the shipwreck as a “heart-wrenching tragedy.”
Since 2020, Lebanon has seen a spike in the number of migrants attempting the perilous crossing in jam-packed boats to reach Europe.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said that 10 children appeared to be “among those who lost their lives,” adding that “years of political instability and economic crisis in Lebanon have pushed many children and families into poverty.”


Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests
Updated 27 September 2022

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests
  • Najafi was shot six times in the city of Karaj, receiving bullets in the face and neck

DUBAI: A funeral has been held for Hadis Najafi, a young Iranian woman who was shot dead by security forces during protests near Tehran.

Najafi was shot six times in the city of Karaj, and was hit by bullets in the face and neck, according to a report by Radio Farda.

Videos of Najafi's funeral has been circulated on social media as online users paid tribute to the 20-year-old.
She had earlier gone viral in a TikTok video where she was seen tying her hair and preparing to join the anti-government protests, which were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the ‘morality police’ for breaching the strict Hijab rules.
At least 41 people have been killed as Iran continues to crack down on the nationwide demonstrations.


Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra
Updated 27 September 2022

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra
  • Algiers seeks non-permanent seat on Security Council
  • Candidacy endorsed by African, Arab and Islamic bodies

LONDON: Algeria’s development remains on track and will continue with the support of UN member states, the country’s foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra said on Monday.

During his speech at the General Assembly Debate, Lamamra also reaffirmed his country’s push for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

“My country is a member of the UN, it celebrates this year the 60th anniversary of independence,” he said. “It resolutely pursues the process of building a new Algeria under the leadership of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.”

He continued: “My country reaffirms its compliance with the values and principles (of the UN) and its determination to revive the role of multilateral action in keeping international peace and security and the achievement of comprehensive, fair, and sustainable development.”

Lamamra outlined Algeria’s commitment to the principles of the UN charter ahead of elections scheduled for next June on membership in the Security Council.

“Algeria is aware of the magnitude of unprecedented challenges that arise at the international and regional levels,” he said.

“Therefore, it has submitted its candidacy for the position of non-permanent member of the Security Council, a candidacy endorsed by the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.”

Lamamra also confirmed Algeria would host an Arab Summit on Nov. 1 and 2, and that Algiers “aspired to make this event a crucial step in the joint Arab action, for an effective contribution of the Arab world to dealing with the current challenges on the regional and international scenes.”


UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places

UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places
Updated 27 September 2022

UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places

UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places
  • Masks are still mandatory in medical facilities, place of worship, and public transport
  • The new rules, effective from Sept. 28, waived social distancing between worshipers

DUBAI: UAE residents are no longer required to wear masks in indoor public places, in the country’s biggest ease of restrictions since the outbreak of COVID-19, the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) announced.

However, masks are still mandatory in medical facilities, place of worship, and public transport, officials said.
“Senior citizens and residents and people with chronic diseases are advised to continue wearing masks for their safety,” according to Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, NCEMA’s official spokesperson.
The new rules, effective from Sept. 28, also waived social distancing between worshipers, while keeping the mask policy in mosques and other places of worship.
Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, the UAE placed a stringent mask policy in indoor and outdoor places, imposing $815 (Dh3,000) fine on violators.
In February, authorities lifted the requirement to wear masks outdoors.
Face masks will also be optional in schools.
Under the new rules, the isolation period for COVID-19 positive cases has been reduced from 10 days to five. Close contacts are required to take a PCR test only if they display symptoms.