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Man convicted for running illegal financial service for people smugglers

|News, Fraud and economic crime , International and organised crime

 An illegal money service bureau owner who operated as a banker for criminals smuggling migrants into the UK has today been convicted. 

Asghar Gheshlaghian, 48, was found guilty of money laundering and immigration-related offences following a trial at Southwark Crown Court on 18 January 2023.

The CPS prosecuted Gheshlaghian, of Newham, London, following an investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

For years, the defendant operated as part of a network of “hawala” bankers, transferring money to and from other countries. Hawala banking is legal in the UK if the operator is registered as a money service business and if it conducts lawful business. 

However, from 2018, Gheshlaghian ran this business unregistered and used it to launder ill-gotten funds from criminals who he knew were smuggling migrants into the UK illegally.

The prosecution used a range of evidence to build a strong case including Whatsapp chat logs, business ledgers, statements from asylum seekers and footage from an undercover investigation by ITV, which proved Gheshlaghian took money from people who were seeking access to the UK and paid it on to the smugglers once they had arrived.

Michael Oatley, Unit Head for the CPS, said: “Asghar Gheshlaghian knowingly ran an unregulated money service business to help criminal gangs smuggle people into the UK illegally.

“People smugglers treat vulnerable migrants desperate for a better life as goods, often putting their safety and even lives at risk for profit. Through his money laundering service, Gheshlaghian helped fund and facilitate dangerous criminals who exploited migrants and undermined UK border security for his own financial benefit.

“This prosecution sends a clear message that the CPS, alongside law enforcement, will work tirelessly to help dismantle these criminal networks trying to facilitate illegal immigration.”

NCA Branch Commander Mark Howes said: “By his own admission Asghar Gheshalghian was trusted by organised crime gangs to handle their payments and launder the money they made through organising dangerous Channel boat and lorry crossings.

“In doing so he enabled their criminality and happily took a cut from the profits they made from it.

“Crossing the Channel illegally in boats or lorries is extremely dangerous, sadly in recent days/weeks we have seen it can have fatal consequences.

“This is why disrupting and dismantling the gangs involved in organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA.

“Targeting their financial flows through agents like Gheshalghian is just one of the ways we are doing that.”

Notes to editors

  • Michael Oatley is a Unit Head for the CPS Serious Economic, Organised Crime and International Directorate.
  • Asghar Gheshlaghian [DOB: 12/07/75] was found guilty on 18 January 2023 at Southwark Crown Court of the following charges:
    • Contravention of a relevant requirement
    • Transferring criminal property
    • Processing criminal property
    • Helping asylum seekers to enter the UK
    • Assisting unlawful immigration
  • A Hawala banking network operates to transfer money by deposits being made to one banker and matching withdrawals being operated by another banker in the network.  This is known as an informal value transfer system. 

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