Investigation into Dubai money laundering ring continues as £5.5m cash courier Tara Hanlon jailed.
A BRITISH former recruitment consultant was today jailed for two years and ten months after admitting flying £3.5 million from the UK to Dubai and trying to get a further nearly £2 million out there.
Tara Hanlon, 30, (pictured above) from Pelham Court, Leeds, West Yorkshire, was charged with money laundering after five suitcases filled with more than £1.9 million in cash (pictured below) was found at Heathrow Airport on October 3 2020.
Last year she pleaded not guilty to removing criminal property from the country and was due to stand trial.
However, last month at Isleworth Crown Court she pleaded guilty to four charges.
She denied being involved in a conspiracy with other persons unknown to remove criminal proceeds from the country between July and October last year, and this charge was left to lie on file.
However, she admitted to the offences of flying £1.4 million out of the country on July 14, £1.1 million on August 10 and £1 million on August 10.
She also admitted to attempting fly the £1.9 million out on October 3 when caught at Heathrow.
Hanlon was arrested at about 8pm on October 3 last year along with Megan Reeves, 29, from Doncaster, who was also arrested and remains under investigation, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).
An NCA spokesman said the woman remains under investigation.
They were waiting to board a business class flight to Dubai.
The haul was the largest cash seizure at the UK border in 2020.
UK immigration minister Chris Philp said at the time of her arrest: “This is the largest individual cash seizure at the border so far in 2020 and I am delighted with the efforts of Border Force officers.
“Preventing the export of undeclared cash from the UK is a vital step in clamping down on organised criminal gangs.”
Prosecuting, Nathan Resiah, today said: "On October 3 2020, Tara Elizabeth Hanlon was booked onto flight EK004 to Dubai.
"She was travelling with another passenger called Megan Reeves.
"She had checked in five suitcases. She was stopped by customs official Esha Mohammad, and they spoke. "She said the purpose of her trip was a girl's trip, she had five bags because she wasn't sure what to wear.
"The officer explained that she looks for passengers with large sums of cash and asked if she was travelling with any cash today, to which Ms Hanlon replied that she didn't."
Hanlon has appeared in several glamourous images on social media accounts, including Instagram and Facebook, and is described by relatives as a "party girl."
According to a former Linkedin account she was Operations Manager at Leeds recruitment consultancy firm Goodall Brazier.
Defending Stephen Grattage said Hanlon was at a vulnerable point in her life after suddenly losing her mother to an illness in March 2020 and being furloughed from her job at Goodall Brazier the following day just as the lockdown came into force.
He said as the money was being declared in Dubai and there was talk of an accountant being involved to deal with her payments, made her think it could be legitimate.
He also said there was an element of exploitation due to her being targeted at a vulnerable point in her life.
He said: "She was at a very vulnerable time in her life and made bad choices. She thought it was legitimate at the time, although she had her suspicions.
"With the positive good character of her life before and since being on remand, the pre-sentence report writer says she is at low risk of reoffending."
He urged for a suspended sentence.
But, Her Honour Judge Karen Holt said she was not convinced she had been exploited and there had been an element of greed and personal gain.
She said: "When you were stopped at Heathrow that was the start if a number of lies.
"Asked if you were travelling with cash that day you said you weren't.
"You were asked if you had done it before and you said no.
"Much of the detailed prepared statement you gave was not true although you were being directed and that is accepted by the crown cop and you cooperated and gave your phone pin details.
"Although you were vulnerable at time, I don't find you have been exploited and find that you knew what you were doing you were motivated by personal gain and you did have some awareness and understanding of the extent of and how large the operation was going to get.
"I accept it was out of character and this started at a difficult time in your life."
NCA senior investigating officer Ian Truby said: "Hanlon smuggled more than £3.5 million criminal cash out of the UK and was caught red handed with another £2 million. This money undoubtedly came from organised crime.
“Tara Hanlon thought that she was going to be living a jet-set lifestyle, instead she is now serving a prison sentence. I hope her story is a cautionary one for others who would consider doing the same.
“Stopping the flow of illicit cash is a priority for the NCA and our partners.”
The court heard Hanlon revealed she was recruited by Michelle Clarke, from Garforth in Leeds, who had been working for Sky before becoming involved with a money laundering network.
The NCA believes it is connected to a £50 million international money laundering racket.
In May officers arrested three men and eight women aged 18 to 48 in a series of co-ordinated raids across Britain on Tuesday, 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 around £3,000 each time for making the journeys.
A month after Hanlon was arrested, Zdenek Kamaryt, 38, a Czech citizen, (pictured below) was arrested at the same airport 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.”
Messages on Hanlon's phone from Clarke suggested the crime network planned to fly at least two "couriers" a day from the UK to Dubai with £1 million or more in cash stuffed into their luggage each time.
The gang recruited mules to smuggle cash out of UK airports then officially declare it upon arrival in Dubai as the legitimate proceeds of a gold-trading company called Omnivest.
Money mules have flights paid for with accommodation in Dubai and cash payments believed to be around £3,000 each trip.
Couriers are even advised how to set up small businesses in the UK to launder their "earnings."
Hanlon, who had cosmetic surgery to look like idol Kim Kardashian and regularly posts glamourous images on social media, told NCA investigators in a prepared statement it was the first trip she made, involving taking money.
She said she thought it was legal, because it was being declared in Dubai, and that she was not being paid, other than £500 to cut the hair of Clarke who was based in Dubai, who asked her to bring the money.
But, text messages obtained by the NCA between Hanlon and the woman, who recruited her for the crime gang, painted a different picture.
One July 15 2020, the day after her first successful £1.4 million flight, Hanlon texted Clarke saying: "Perfect life, a few days in the sun and a few at home."
Clarke, who is now being sought by the NCA as part of its investigations into the network, replied asking Hanlon to come up with other "recruits" who could be "trusted" to take part.
She replied the same day: "It's a great little life.
"They want me to have 12 people.
"They want at least enough for once a week... then up to two a day every week."
Next day Hanlon replied saying she had been paid "three big ones," which the prosecution said was £3,000.
She added: "So with this wage and the next my debts going bye. The time for TT(sic) to live her best life.
One July 17 messages between them discussed the recruitment of another woman.
In a voicemail message, downloaded by the prosecution from Hanlon's phone, Clarke told her how to launder her proceeds.
She said: "I think its going to be best that you set up a business for yourself in the UK and then that way I've got an accountant for you
and you'll be able to put money through your books.
"Just say you're doing hair extensions or something and then he's going to clean your money up, okay?"
After being stopped at Heathrow on October 3, Hanlon messaged Clarke saying she had been stopped.
She said: "I've had to tell the truth... she's interrogating me... I don't know what to do. I'm so scared."#
Hanlon denied having any cash, but when it was found told officers Clarke said if she took the bags "she will pay for my flight and
Hanlon later gave two prepared statements in which she admitted taking the money on October 3, but insisted she thought it was legal.
She said Clarke arranged the trip and she was taken from Salford with two cases by taxi to the Marriott Hotel in London where the other three cases were handed over.
Dubai has become a mecca for crime syndicates to launder their cash in property developments.
The NCA has identified the United Arab Emirates as one of five nations where UK criminal cash is most likely to be laundered alongside Russia, China, Hong Kong and Pakistan.
A Home Office spokesman said: “As two major financial centres, the UK and UAE share a common interest and responsibility in tackling global illicit financial flows. The UK reaffirmed its commitment to increase our cooperation with the UAE on this issue in the Integrated Review.”
Hanlon faces a proceeds of crime confiscation hearing next year.