The biggest fraud and money laundering cases

Money laundering and fraud can have a severe impact on everyone from regular citizens to multinational corporations. In fact, the National Crime Agency puts the cost of money laundering and fraud to British businesses, citizens and government at over £190 billion a year[1].

As you might expect, there have been some extraordinary examples of these crimes over the years. We have analysed 10 of the most lucrative (and shocking!) cases, to reveal exactly what happened and how businesses and individuals can learn from these cases moving into 2020:

1. ‘Mr Big’ 

After serving a three-year prison sentence for laundering drug money[2], Maythem Al-Ansari, aka ‘Mr Big’, was staring down the barrel of an additional jail term for a mortgage fraud that cost millions of pounds. However, after handing over his passport as part of the bail terms, an error allowed Al-Ansari to acquire another passport from the Home Office, which he used to flee to Syria. Eventually Mr Big gave himself up at London Heathrow in 2016, but the blunder was highly embarrassing at the time and left millions of pounds unaccounted for. 

Of course, this was a high profile case and this kind of error rarely occurs, but it highlights the necessity of government bodies to continue working closely together to avoid lapses in communication that allow such issues to happen. 

2. Largest ever visa fraud in the UK

Four people were sentenced in September 2019 at Southwark Crown Court[3] for being behind the UK’s largest ever visa and immigration fraud case. The culprits impersonated ‘immigration advisors’ who charged extortionate fees for compiling (false) immigration applications that would’ve cost millions of pounds to the British taxpayer had the scam come off. 

It’s imperative that those looking to migrate to the United Kingdom only go through the proper, official channels to avoid any chance of being defrauded. 

3. Failings at Standard Chartered Bank 

For a vast series of failings including opening a bank account with 3 million UAE Dirham (£500,000) deposited from cash in a suitcase, the Financial Conduct Authority issued its second-largest fine[4] to Standard Chartered Bank in April 2019 of just over £102 million.

Businesses, particularly those in the banking and financial sector, must take an active approach in identifying money laundering risks and reporting these without hesitation to the relevant authorities. Complying with money laundering legislation will save companies money in the long run as any fines for breaches would eclipse resulting fines. 

4. The worst female fraudster in the UK

Aptly dubbed by police as the “UK’s most prolific female fraudster”[5], Maria Michaela scammed banks out of £13 million by submitting offers on houses over the market value and then defaulting on the mortgages. Michaela was able to repeat this several times by using false identities.

This highlights how important it is that mortgage lenders take a close, critical look at offers that come in well over the asking price. Many offers of this nature will be genuine, but sometimes they are too good to be true. 

5. Luxury accessories, 500 lottery tickets and even bars of gold 

Police tracked a series of dubious purchases by Stephen Burton, before raiding his home in February 2019[6], uncovering a vast collection of possessions with a value of almost £1 million. These included solid gold bars, designer watches, thousands of pounds and euros, 500 lottery tickets and false identities. 

Police were able to ‘follow the money’ in this case, as purchases that are beyond the means of ‘average citizens’ are often indicators that fraudulent behaviour is taking place. 

6. Suitcase smuggling

In November 2019[7], police arrested ten suspected members of an organised crime gang, under suspicion of smuggling £15.5 million pounds out of the UK to Dubai in suitcases.T

his is another example of the authorities building a case around suspected illegal activity, in this instance unusual travel patterns and living well above one’s means, and acting upon their investigations.

 7. Big-time benefit fraud 

Following the death of her father in 2004, Ethel McGill[8] continued to claim his war pension and benefits by claiming he was still alive, at one point convincing a friend to lay down under a blanket to impersonate Mr Dennison.  

McGill also faked disability and dementia for over two decades but investigators at the Department for Work and Pensions acquired videos of her driving and moving around, despite her claims of needing a wheelchair. 

Everyday people are often able to help in cases like this, so if you know about a fraudulent situation then reporting it to the relevant authorities can really help.

 8. Bank of Scotland’s scandal

Hundreds of people were left in serious financial difficulty due to rogue employees at Bank of Scotland’s (HBOS) Reading branch colluding with consultants to defraud small businesses of around £245 million between 2003 and 2007[9].

The scam involved referring small businesses to a ‘turnaround consultancy’, which would convince the businesses they needed help, before loading them with astronomical debts and fees. For failing to disclose information about the activity, HBOS was fined over £45 million.

Small businesses should always proceed with caution when being passed over to outside consultancies without seeking their own, independent advice.

 9. Four cases and lots of cash 

In 2019 Mohamed Imran Khan Sathar Khan, then 36, was caught by Border Force operatives trying to smuggle £1.5 million in four suitcases to Dubai[10]. Each case weighed exactly 20kg, which savvy border guards were able to recognise as suspicious before searching the cases and rumbling the fraudster.

This is a great example of authorities spotting a strange pattern and acting on their suspicions. With such situations, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

  10. Huge fine for Commonwealth Bank 

In 2018 Australia’s largest lender, Commonwealth Bank, agreed to pay a whopping £400 million fine[11], the largest civil penalty in Australian corporate history, for breach of anti money laundering and counter-terror financing legislation.

 In total, there were 53,000 suspicious transactions that weren’t reported to the relevant authorities by the bank. According to Commonwealth, this was due to a coding error preventing the automatic reporting of transactions that may be indicative of illegal activity. 

Companies in the financial and banking sectors should continually monitor and proactively troubleshoot their software to ensure it is recording data and reporting accurately and efficiently, or else risk being faced with huge fines and repercussions.

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 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. 

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Martin Cheek
by Martin Cheek

Managing Director

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