Money laundering and fraud cost UK businesses, citizens and the government more than £100 billion a year, according to the National Crime Agency. The effects can have a devastating impact on ordinary people as well as businesses and the government. The following cases show the huge sums of money that can be involved plus the massive fines that have been given to firms who are in breach of anti-money laundering rules.
‘Mr Big’ on the run
In 2012, after serving a three-year prison sentence for money laundering for drug dealers, Maythem Al-Ansari, also known as ‘Mr Big’, was facing another jail term for multi-million-pound mortgage fraud.
After handing over his passport when being released on bail, a blunder allowed Mr Big to contact the Home Office to obtain a new passport, which he quickly used to flee to Syria. At the time, this left millions of pounds unaccounted for, but in 2016 Al-Ansari gave himself up at London Heathrow. This mishap was purely down to a lack of communication and coordination between various government bodies.
UK’s largest ever visa fraud
In September 2019, four people were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court for their involvement in the UK’s largest-ever immigration fraud case. The fraudsters posed as ‘immigration advisors’ who devised a network of fake companies to deceive officials in the Home Office.
The culprits charged extortionate fees for pulling together hundreds of false immigration applications that would’ve cost the taxpayer millions of pounds, had the scheme run successfully. Raids on the defendants’ homes and businesses provided substantial evidence for the case to be prosecuted.
Standard Chartered Bank fined £102.2 million
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued its second-largest fine to Standard Chartered Bank in April 2019, a nine-figure sum of £102,163,200 for anti-money laundering (AML) breaches.
Serious and prolonged shortcomings in Standard Chartered’s approach to identifying and rectifying money laundering risks led to this fine. An example of these failings includes opening an account with 3 million UAE Dirham (£500,000) deposited from cash in a suitcase without verifying the funds.
The UK’s most prolific female fraudster
Maria Michaela, dubbed by police at the time as the UK’s most prolific female fraudster, conned banks out of £13 million by submitting offers on houses over the market value and then defaulting on the mortgages.
By creating false identities, Michaela was able to repeat this scam multiple times, conning banks out of millions until she was eventually arrested in January 2012 after being tracked back to a mortgage broker she had been working at in Blackheath.
Designer watches, gold bars, and 500 lottery tickets
Police had suspected Stephen Burton, from Tunbridge Wells, of purchasing expensive items and rare metals to cover up money earned through illegal activity.
When his home was eventually raided in February 2019, police uncovered possessions with a value totalling nearly £1 million, including gold bars, Krugerrand coins, silver coins, designer watches, thousands of pounds and euros, 500 lottery tickets, and various false identity documents, including two passports with Burton’s name, but different birthplaces and dates of birth.
£15 million smuggled from the UK to Dubai in suitcases
In November 2019, ten suspected members of an organized crime gang were arrested under suspicion of smuggling £15.5 million out of the United Kingdom to Dubai in suitcases. These suspects were also wanted in connection with a conspiracy to illegally transport 17 people into the UK.
Luxury cars, drugs and cash were all seized from the suspects’ homes when they were raided by the National Crime Agency.
One of the UK’s largest benefit frauds
Ethel McGill, 68, of Chesire, was jailed in July 2019 for one of the largest benefit frauds ever recorded in the UK. McGill claimed her dead father, Robert Dennison, was still alive and doing so allowed her to claim his war pension and benefits after his death in 2004. At one point McGill even asked a friend to lay down underneath a blanket to pretend to be Mr. Dennison.
McGill also faked disability and dementia for over two decades. Eventually, investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions acquired video recordings of her driving and moving around, despite claims she needed a wheelchair. This is a sad case of benefit fraud but thankfully investigators eventually caught up with McGill’s charade.
Bank of Scotland’s rogue employees in £245 million scandal
Between 2003 and 2007, rogue employees at Bank of Scotland’s (HBOS) Reading branch worked with a group of consultants to defraud the bank and small businesses of roughly £245 million, leaving hundreds of people in dire financial trouble.
HBOS was consequently fined £45.5 million for failing to disclose information about the scandal. The scheme involved referring small businesses to a turnaround consultancy, which would load the businesses with obscene debts and fees.
Four suitcases stuffed with £1.5 million in cash
Mohamed Imran Khan Sathar Khan, 36, was caught in 2019 by Border Force officials attempting to smuggle £1.5 million in four suitcases onto a flight to Dubai. Each case weighed exactly 20kg, which raised eyebrows among border guards before they found the money.
Commonwealth Bank agrees to pay £400 million fine
Australia’s largest lender, Commonwealth Bank, agreed to pay a £400 million fine (the largest ever civil fine in Australian corporate history) in 2018 for breaching anti-money laundering and counter-terror financing legislation. The bank failed to report 53,000 suspicious transactions to the relevant authorities. According to Commonwealth Bank, this was caused by a coding error which meant their machines were not able to automatically report the transactions.
Here we have picked out just ten of the most high-profile examples of money laundering and fraud, but these are the tip of the iceberg. These cases are continuously occurring and those that are on a smaller scale most likely won’t make the news. The size of the problem is enormous, costing British citizens, businesses and the government hundreds of billions of pounds each year.
Looking at prominent cases does serve a purpose in that it highlights the issue and can raise awareness of money laundering and fraud, and may help businesses understand how to better protect themselves against such crimes.