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Judge orders forfeiture of £80,000 as officers crackdown on international money laundering
19 Mar | 14:27

The fight against organised crime continues 💪

Officers have taken £8️⃣0️⃣,0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ of suspected criminal cash from an overseas student’s bank account as part of an ongoing crackdown into international money laundering.

💵 Detectives from the North East Regional Asset Recovery Team (RART) launched a specialist investigation into the finances of Endian Zhang - a Chinese national who had been living and studying in Newcastle between 2017 and 2019 – after he was found to have more than £127,000 in his bank account.

In February 2019 officers lodged an application to freeze the 24-year-old's bank account and yesterday (Wednesday), a judge sitting at Teesside Magistrates' Court ruled that £80,000 of that money had come from criminal sources and had been laundered into the UK’s banking system - issuing a forfeiture order for the lump sum.

Under Chinese law, large overseas transfers are heavily regulated and withdrawals of sums above £13,989 are prohibited without stringent identification checks and permits.

To avoid regulation, many families turn to something known as Chinese Underground Banking (CUB) where their cash never leaves the country, but rather a network of criminals guarantee the same figure is paid into the overseas account.

To avoid detection, a technique called ‘smurfing’ is often used where a number of smaller amounts are deposited into an account to avoid raising suspicion.

Detective Sergeant Tommy Maughan from the North East RART said: “Criminals are desperate to make money and will continue to seek out ways to make sure they can keep turning a profit – no matter the cost for others.

“We know that across the country there are many cases like this where vulnerable students have been exploited because they don’t have full knowledge of the scale and seriousness of the issue so we are working closely with all universities in our region to educate all students, particularly international ones, about the risks.

“They need to be aware that money that is not moved through legitimate channels will often have come from all sorts of criminality - including drugs and human trafficking. Under the Proceeds of Crime Act we have the powers to freeze and seize this.

“Let me make it clear, with this particular case, Endian Zhang was not suspected of committing a criminal offence – but the money in his bank account was deemed to have been filtered through illegal channels to avoid the banking regulations.

“There is a strong public interest in making sure that people who use unlicensed operators to avoid financial regulation should be deprived of their property."

There will now be a 30-day appeal period and if not contested, the funds will be sent to the Home Office where they will be used in the fight against serious and organised crime.

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