Preston travel agency at centre of £84k money laundering operation

AGENCY: Fly London was operating from premises on East View
AGENCY: Fly London was operating from premises on East View
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A travel agent and money transfer business was used as a front to launder more than £84,000 cash, which was found stuffed into Tesco carrier bags.

Fly London Travel Ltd in Preston, owned by local businessman Salauddin Patel, was under observation in May 2012, after officers from the Organised Crime Division monitored text messages they believed to be arranging illegal money transfers.

Preston Crown Court was told that, in December 2011, Mr Patel applied to register Fly London Travel Ltd as a money transfer business to allow members of the Asian community to transfer moderately small amounts of money to family overseas.

He also applied to register his employee Sarfaraz Patel as a proper person to conduct the transfers.

On May 8, 2012, George Heath, who has previously been to jail for being involved in importing cannabis into Cadiz, Spain, was spotted leaving the premises in East View, Deepdale, Preston, at 10.05pm.

Heath, 48, who was also wanted on warrant for conspiracy to produce cannabis and possession of £26,000 of criminal property, gave officers a false name and said he had been enquiring about flights to Dubai when officers spoke to him outside the premises.

But minutes afterwards, when officers knocked on the door, they were met by an “extremely agitated” Salauddin Patel.

They entered the building and found cash in carrier bags and on a counting machine, and two 98g blocks of cannabis, with a street value of £640, were found in the back of Heath’s Mercedes.

The court heard Salauddin Patel had recruited another man, Sarfaraz Patel, to work in the business and who had arranged the meeting between Salauddin Patel and Heath.

Sarfaraz Patel, 36, no relattion to his employer, met Salauddin Patel at a mosque and thought he appeared to be a successful and legitimate businessman.

Both men came from the same region of India and when he was offered an administrative position at Salauddin’s Preston business, Sarfaraz - who had worked on the counter of a petrol station for eight years - seized the opportunity to better himself and provide for his family.

Sarfaraz was given three weeks training by his employer and in May 2012 was instructed by Salauddin to collect large sums of money while Sarfaraz was away in India and Dubai. This was to include collection of serial numbers from £5 notes which were referred to as ‘tokens’.

Mobile phones recovered as part of the operation showed transfers being arranged with phones registered in Dubai and the Netherlands although there was no evidence Heath, Salauddin or Sarfaraz Patel had been in possession of the phones at the time these arrangements were made.

However Heath and Sarfaraz Patel pleaded guilty on the basis they were only personally involved in the single £84,000 transaction on May 8.

Text messages dated May 1 made reference to £90,000 of criminal cash being delivered, on May 2 reference was made to a delivery of £100,000, on May 3 £58,000 of criminal cash was discussed by text message and on May 4 a further text reference was made to £40,000 criminal property.

The court heard Sarfaraz thought it was strange that bank note serial codes were used as ‘tokens’ to transfer cash. He had no experience of criminal activity and did not query the system,.

Sarfaraz Patel, of Brandwood Street, Bolton, pleaded guilty to one count of being concerned in criminal property on the basis he did not know what was happening and that he was involved in organised crime.

Heath, of Burlington Place, Shrewsbury, pleaded guilty to the same charge along with addition to possession of 196g of cannabis with intent to supply.

Judge Michael Byrne, sentencing, said: “International drug trafficking and money laundering is a curse of modern society and our community looks to the courts to curtail this unlawful activity as best they can.

“In your case, Sarfaraz Patel, I do not believe you were as naive as has been presented on your behalf. I think you knew exactly what was going on.

“A third person should be before the court - Salauddin Patel - but he is too ill to attend.

“His business, Fly London Travel, was used in part for money laundering.

“The extent of the wrongdoing is a single transaction.

“At the time, George Heath was on bail for drug offences for which he has already been dealt with in Stoke.”

He jailed Sarfaraz Patel for 18 months and Heath for 24 months.

Lawyers took the decision not to prosecute Salauddin Patel as he was too ill to stand trial and he had other fraud and immigration matters outstanding.

A CPS spokesman said the public interest of the decision to prosecute was not met in the case of Mr Patel.