Did NHS worker who hung himself after Dubai trip courier cash for multi-million money launderers?
FRIENDS and family of a British man who killed himself after returning home from Dubai fear he may have been lured into an international money laundering ring by a woman suspected of recruiting young Brits who lost jobs to coronavirus. The 30-year-old, pictured above in the swimming pool of a five-star Dubai hotel, in his final posting on Instagram before taking his own life, is not being named by Essex News and Investigations, at the request of his parents.
He was found dead after hanging himself in his Leeds home on August 30 last year. He had just returned from a short trip to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, where he said he got work as a "courier," after losing his job as a customer resolution manager for NHS Digital at the start of lockdown.
In July, Tara Hanlon, 30, (above) from Pelham Court, Leeds, was jailed for 34 months at Isleworth Crown Court after she admitted four counts of money laundering for a suspected multi-million pound international money laundering ring based in Dubai.
It is believed the man who killed himself was recruited by the same network. Between July 14 and August 31 2020 Hanlon made three flights to Dubai to courier more than £1 million in cash each time smuggled out of Heathrow Airport in her luggage. The cash was declared at Dubai Customs after Hanlon handed over a letter, revealed in court, and purportedly signed by Abdulla Alfalasi, director of Omnivest Gold Trading LLC, saying she was carrying it for the company. The Alfalasi name stems back to the rulers of Dubai.
Dubai Customs did not respond to requests for comment on how the cash was allowed in with no outbound paperwork from Heathrow, and if Hanlon's inbound papers were genuine.
We tried to contact Atlantic Trust Holding, the African parent company of Omnivest Gold Trading, but emails bounced back as undeliverable. On October 3 2020 Hanlon was stopped at Heathrow with nearly £2 million (pictured below) in five bags and arrested.
The court heard Hanlon said she was recruited by Michelle Clarke, 41, from Garforth, in Leeds, after she was furloughed from her operations manager job at recruitment consultancy Goodall Brazier in March 2020. Clarke, who was a digital coordinator for Sky TV, was looking to recruit up to 12 cash couriers to make between them as many as two £1 million plus illegal cash trips to Dubai a day, the court heard.
Linkedin profiles say she moved to Dubai in 2019, but continued to work for Sky as a Digital Coordinator. Text messages between Hanlon and Clarke discussing more people being recruited were read out in court. On July 15 last year Clarke told Hanlon the crime group wanted a team of 12 couriers. Hanlon asked how many she had already to which Clarke replied "Me, you, (name removed)" and she mentioned someone else with the first name of the man who killed himself. She added: "They want at least enough for once a week, so that’s seven. Then up to two a day every week."
July 17: Optimistic texts between Hanlon and Clarke
October 3: 'WTF' from Hanlon at being stopped but no response from Clarke
Defending Hanlon, Stephen Grattage said she was exploited at a vulnerable point in her life after suddenly losing her mother to an illness in March 2020 and being furloughed. Judge Karen Holt said she was not convinced she had been exploited and there had been an element of greed and personal gain. The CPS confirmed Clarke is sought by the National Crime Agency (NCA) as part of investigations into the suspected multi-million pound money laundering ring triggered by Hanlon's arrest. The male NHS worker's last ever posting on Instagram, in the week before his death, was a picture of him in a swimming pool at the luxury five-star FIVE Palm Jumeirah hotel in Dubai. His friends and family said he had been close to Clarke for a number of years and they were both well known faces on the Leeds social scene. One, who did not want to be named, said: "Michelle posted a tribute to him, but left for Dubai a couple of days later and has not been seen since. "He had been going to Dubai on short trips and had just come back. "We believe Michelle got him involved in the same thing as Tara who was also big on the Leeds social scene."
JAILED: Hanlon in a police mugshot (NCA) Another friend said the man had told him the cash trips were to "save tax" for a Dubai sheikh who had many UK business interests and he had shown him customs paperwork similar to that used by Hanlon on her trips. He said: "It did seem kind of a strange set up. He said they only flew on Emirates as the sheikh had shares in it and they had extra baggage allowance and spotters in the airport who told them when to go. "I don't know why he got involved through or what kind of pressure this might have put him under." Wakefield Coroner's Court heard last December that the NHS worker had suffered from anxiety and depression since 2017 and had struggled with rent on his flat after losing the job he enjoyed at NHS Digital. His father told the court: "When he lost his job he was devastated because he had found his perfect flat." Senior Coroner Kevin McLoughlin said he had got a "temporary job in Dubai." The man (pictured below from social media) requested more anti-depressants on August 17, but missed an NHS review the next day, and flew to Dubai on August 23, returning a few days later.
His dad added: "He was a courier in Dubai. He had just come back and was due to go back the following week." The court heard the man went out with friends on the evening of August 28, who included an ex-boyfriend, who he split from amicably ten years ago. However, the man became upset after his ex-partner met someone else on the night. The ex-partner became concerned after he could not contact him the next day and alerted police who found him dead at his flat on August 30. Police found no suspicious circumstances and no note was left. Mr McLoughlin recorded a verdict of suicide. His dad told Essex News and Investigations: "He knew Michelle Clarke, who got him into this, but he was pretty vague about what he was doing. I just hope they catch up with her soon." Regarding the search for Clarke, an NCA spokesman said: "We do not routinely confirm or deny the identities of those who may or may not be subject to investigations."
However, the NCA believes Hanlon was working for a £50 million international money laundering racket.
In May, NCA officers arrested three men and eight women aged 18 to 48 in a series of co-ordinated raids across Britain in London, Surrey, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
All have been released under investigation while the probe continues.
The couriers are believed to be paid thousands of pounds each time for making the journeys.
A month after Hanlon was arrested, Zdenek Kamaryt, 38, a Czech citizen, (pictured above with cash he was found with) was arrested at Heathrow as he prepared to fly to Dubai.
He was found with more than £1.3 million in cash vacuum-packed in three suitcases that he had checked in for the flight.
Another £50,000 was found in his hand luggage, including bundles of £50 notes stuffed inside pairs of socks. Police described it as a “brazen attempt” to take money out the country as his bags carried little other than cash (pictured below).
He was identified as having made two previous trips in July and August.
Kamaryt pleaded guilty to money laundering offences and was jailed for two years in March.
Czech national Michala Repperova, 26, was initially charged with money laundering after being arrested with Kamaryt, but the case against her was later dropped.
Ian Truby, a senior officer at the National Crime Agency, said: “Cash is the lifeblood of organised crime. Organised crime groups need to launder it so they invest it in further criminality.
“Our investigation identified millions of pounds of what we suspect are criminal profits being flown out of the UK to be laundered.
“What we have seen is huge shipments of cash, with couriers carrying multiple suitcases, with up to half a million pounds in each case.”
We asked the NCA if it was aware who the couriers have been laundering money for and if any arrests of anyone higher up the chain have been made.
The NCA spokesman said: "The investigation is ongoing so it would not be appropriate to comment further."