At the beginning of April 2020 the UK’s National Crime Agency published its “National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime 2020”. Of course, much of this report looks at the damage being done by criminals but – as instructed by Johnny Mercer – I am determined to accentuate the positive, and the assessment reminds us of some excellent money laundering convictions during 2019, so let’s smack our lips over a couple of those once again.
On 26 February 2019, Nigerian national Kazeem Akinwale was jailed for nine years at the Old Bailey. The NCA calls him “a prolific fraudster and go-to money launderer for criminals based around the world”, for whom he laundered more than £6 million stolen from more than a hundred businesses worldwide. Akinwale orchestrated the transfer of stolen funds into accounts opened by money mules, ordering them to withdraw cash. The NCA is modest about their involvement, but my online sleuthing has uncovered more details. In March 2016 London auction house Christie’s reported that hackers had spoofed an employee’s email address in order to divert a payment for a customer invoice into another bank account. The NCA linked an IP address used to access the intended beneficiary’s account to Akinwale’s home in London, and from there investigators recovered a laptop and two smartphones containing login credentials for more than two hundred accounts at banks in the UK, Poland, Hong Kong and elsewhere. The trial gave us a new term: “mule herders” are individuals who control money mules. The mule herders and the mules each took a cut of the proceeds while Akinwale deposited more than £73,000 in “direct commission” into his personal bank accounts.
And in April 2019, student Zain Qaiser was jailed at Kingston Crown Court for six years and five months for blackmail, fraud, money laundering and computer misuse offences. When still a teenager, and working from his bedroom at his parents’ home in Barking, Qaiser started launching ransomware attacks, in which a computer is hijacked and frozen by a small piece of software until the user pays a fee for its release. He contacted the Russian controller of one of the most potent attack tools and agreed a split of his profits if his planned blackmail operation was a success, while also setting up relationships with online criminals from China and the US to do the laundering. Investigators estimate that he may have extorted more than £4 million from victims, few of whom reported their losses because the attacks happened after they had clicked on ads on porn websites: one screen grab from Qaiser’s computer showed that he made £11,000 in July 2014 alone. He moved more than £4 million through various cryptocurrencies – investing much of it in buying more ads on porn sites to snare more victims – and had personally received almost £550,000 by the time of his arrest in 2014. He received a further £100,000 as his associates moved funds through Gibraltar and Belize to a UK-accessible online account. The NCA is still investigating Qaiser’s laundering routes, as he revealed in online chats that he has further “offshore savings”. As always, of course, he also enjoyed what he considered the finer things in life, spending £5,000 on a Rolex watch and £2,000 on a stay in a Chelsea hotel, as well as gambling £70,000 in a casino.
But now Mr Akinwale and Mr Qaiser are both behind bars, their laundering techniques have been unravelled for us to learn from them, and their criminal proceeds are being traced and seized. Not only are we accentuating the positive – we’re eliminating the negative.