A SEARCH operation has been carried out in the Ballymena area as part of £215million ‘money laundering’ investigation.
Officers from PSNI’s Economic Crime Unit have conducted the largest money laundering search and arrest operation in Northern Ireland focusing on the international money laundering of criminal assets accumulating to approximately £215 million.
Fifteen properties were searched across Northern Ireland and seven people arrested.
Eight searches were carried out yesterday (Monday 20 January) in Banbridge, Newry and Omagh and seven further searches were carried out in Belfast, Banbridge, Newry and Ballymena earlier today (Tuesday 21 January).
Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson said: “Together with Tactical Support Group (TSG) officers, neighbourhood and local policing teams and colleagues from PSNI’s Operational Support Department, we carried out a large scale search and arrest operation over two days targeting individuals suspected of high end money laundering through bank accounts in the UK and internationally.
“Six men aged 33, 37, 39, 40, 50, 67 and a 32 year old woman were arrested during the two day operation. The men aged 50 and 67 plus the 32 year old woman remain in police custody and are being questioned by detectives. The 4 men aged 33, 37, 39 and 40 have been released on police bail.
“Due to the size and complexity of this investigation, the operation involved PSNI liaison with Garda Economic Crime Bureau (ECB), Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), National Crime Agency (NCA), United Kingdom Financial Investigation Unit (UKFIU) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
“International associations have been identified and PSNI are working with EuroPol and InterPol. We are also being assisted by money laundering experts coordinated by the National Economic CRIME Centre (NECC).
“We believe today’s operation is one of the most significant live investigations into money laundering in the UK.
“During our extensive investigation we identified that a significant volume of suspected criminal cash was being laundered out of the country through a number of shell companies and bank accounts held here in Northern Ireland. The investigation has identified over 50 companies and over 140 bank accounts
“In total, almost £215 million has been deposited to thousands of bank accounts across the UK and also transferred out of the UK through foreign exchange companies since 2011.
“Money laundering is often a critical enabler of organised criminality. We believe that the majority of this money is derived from a range of criminal activity carried out by organised crime gangs.
“We are committed to keeping people safe by robustly pursuing those who are involved in laundering criminally derived money and enabling criminals to access the profits gained from their involvement in a range of illegal activities.
“I would appeal for anyone with any information on this type of activity to contact Police on 101 or call the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
DUP North Antrim MLA and Policing Board Member Mervyn Storey said the policing operation against international money laundering based in Northern Ireland demonstrates clearly that there will be no hiding place for those involved in organised criminality.
Mr Storey said: “I want to commend the PSNI and officers from the Economic Crime Unit on the success of this disruptive operation. The fact that it is estimated to be the second largest anti-money laundering operation seen in the UK is testament to their planning, intelligence and gathering and professionalism on the ground.
“It is a good day for the interests of the public and a bad day for organised criminality not just in Northern Ireland but internationally. This highlights the vital and active role the PSNI plays in tackling global and common threats to our communities.’’