موقع إخباري يهتم بفضائح و انتهاكات دولة الامارات

International investigation: Dubai’s Role as Haven for Unchecked Billions in Illicit Funds


The American newspaper “The Wall Street Journal” published an international investigation in which it shed light on the reality of the Emirate of Dubai as a haven for billions of dirty money that flies without inspection.
According to the newspaper’s investigation, flights departing from London Heathrow Airport to Dubai present two significant avenues for money laundering: the lack of outbound luggage searches at one airport and the welcoming of bags at the other.
The investigation revealed that in August 2020, Jo Emma Larvin was seen pushing a luggage trolley loaded with bags through London Heathrow Airport before presenting her passport to an Emirates agent for a flight bound for Dubai.
Larvin was traveling business class with another woman and together they lifted seven heavy suitcases onto the conveyor belt. She exchanged text messages with her boyfriend on her way to the security line.
“Do you feel OK?” Asked. “Yes bro,” Larvin wrote. The suitcases carried millions of dollars worth of British pounds, wrapped with rubber bands and bundled in plastic bags.
The funds were allocated to a global money launderer who imposed excessive charges on clients to convert their funds into gold or alternative currencies. He favored traveling from Heathrow, one of the top two busiest international airports globally, en route to Dubai.
The UK requires passengers to tell customs authorities if they are leaving the country with more than the equivalent of about $10,000, but Larvin did not do so and risked arrest.
The seven bags entered Heathrow’s baggage handling system and slid through a 3D scanner that checked only explosives and other potentially dangerous items.
The following day, the women in Dubai packed their belongings without concern, knowing that any sum of cash could be brought into the UAE as long as it was declared. They proceeded to customs, where they informed authorities that they were carrying $2.8 million equivalent.
Most airports around the world, including the United States, do not scan passengers’ luggage for cash, which is a costly enterprise in equipment and staff.
Countries that accept all forms of currency aren’t obligated to report large amounts of cash arriving from foreign sources.
Law enforcement officials said the loopholes allow billions of dollars in cash to travel outside the United Kingdom and elsewhere to countries with fewer rules.
Money launderers surreptitiously funnel more than $2 trillion in proceeds from illegal companies into the global financial systems every year, according to estimates.
Passengers traveling internationally may be carrying cash amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars, as per data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body establishing anti-money laundering guidelines for nations.
One reason for so much airline smuggling is that sanctions and scandals on customers involved in money laundering have prompted more banks around the world to report suspicious transactions.
“You can’t walk into a bank with that kind of money without getting reported, you’ll get caught at the next branch,” said George Voloshin, of ACAMS, an industry group for financial crime professionals.
A spokesperson for the UK Government stated that Customs officers are actively addressing security risks related to smuggling at airports. However, a spokesperson for Heathrow Airport declined to provide comments regarding its security equipment and procedures. Meanwhile, a representative from the UAE mentioned that identifying cash smuggling falls under the jurisdiction of the authorities in the country of origin.
A UAE official stated that efforts are underway to counter illegal financial activities, including collaborative intelligence-sharing and joint operations with the United Kingdom.
The UAE, a global destination for the wealthy, was recently removed from the list of places in need of greater global financial monitoring.
Smuggling cash through airlines poses a relatively low risk to people hired to do the job, officials and industry groups said.
Larvin and her partner were part of a group of thirteen suspected smugglers employed by a money launderer based in the United Arab Emirates. It appeared to be a straightforward source of income. Officials estimate they facilitated the transfer of $125 million, primarily between July and October of 2020.
“How on earth did they manage to pull off such a massive sum in such a brief timeframe?” Remarked Ian Truby, the chief investigating officer for the National Crime Agency in the UK. According to him, one explanation is that airport security focuses solely on aviation safety rather than crime detection
Three weeks later, Larvin left for Heathrow with her boyfriend and a few million dollars in cash in eight suitcases. Her boyfriend was worried about attracting undue attention with too much baggage. “It’s so ridiculous,” he texted.
The report regarding the cash smuggling operation at Heathrow is derived from documentation and evidence made public by UK authorities, court transcripts containing text exchanges and images, testimonies provided by money couriers during legal proceedings, and discussions with investigators and individuals knowledgeable about the situation.

Cash and Carrying
Abdullah Al Falasi began moving money from Heathrow to Dubai around 2017 and expanded his operations during the pandemic.
On New Year’s Day 2020, Al Falasi departed from Heathrow Airport with 11 suitcases, totaling 463 pounds in weight, and declared approximately $850,000 upon arrival in Dubai. He informed a former associate that he had affiliations with the royal family.
His father-in-law oversaw Dubai Airport customs during its rudimentary stages, consisting of little more than a roof and a table. In his capacity as General Director of Aviation, he transformed the airport into a prominent global hub.
Later in that month, Al Falasi contacted Michelle Clark, an executive assistant planning to move to Dubai with her husband and children, alongside her spouse, a former professional soccer player. Clark was associated with the vibrant social scene in Leeds, where she was employed at the pay-TV group Sky.
Al Falasi sent Clark a ticket for an overnight flight from Heathrow to Dubai, returning the same day. She had a text message with a picture of a letter authorizing her to carry cash for a company owned by Alfalasi, lending a false sense of legitimacy to the job.
Upon Clark’s arrival, Al Falasi directed her via text and voice messages to declare the money at the airport counter, mentioning that he would be waiting outside. Subsequently, she made three additional flights in February 2020, during which Al Falasi enlisted two additional couriers.
In July 2020, Clark texted a friend, saying she needed 12 people for the job. Job Criteria: “No talking, trust, and reliability!!!” A friend put Clark in touch with Larvin, saying Clark worked at the UAE embassy.
The women met for coffee. Clark’s teenage son sat at a nearby table. Clark showed Larvin the stamped certificates she would carry as a document courier and offered £3,000, about $3,750, to transport the bags. Clark will also pay for Larkin to stay at a resort until she returns home with the empty suitcases.
Larvin was involved in digital marketing and pursued interests in modeling and wildlife photography. Notably, she featured in a music video for a popular British band that topped the charts in 2008. According to reports from British tabloids, in 2009, she ended her relationship with her boyfriend, world champion boxer Joe Calzaghe, following his involvement with his partner on the television program “Strictly Come Dancing.”
The following month, Larvin Clarke forwarded a picture of her passport and traveled by train to King’s Cross station in London, heading towards Heathrow Airport. As her heart rate surged, she messaged her new partner, Jonathan Johnson, an executive recruiter.
“Please be careful,” he wrote. “I am alone here.”
Larvin headed to a Starbucks in an expensive shopping district and met her travel companion, a 25-year-old woman from a city outside London. A driver picked them up in a black Mercedes and drove to a nearby address to collect the bags.
At the airport, they went to the UAE and placed the seven suitcases on the conveyor belt. The luggage passed through a 3D scanner equipped with computed tomography technology to detect explosives.
People don’t see these images, unlike passenger security, unless the software identifies an item that might catch fire or explode. The machines can be programmed to find cash, but they are not because they are operated by airport security agents, who are responsible for passenger safety, not customs and immigration officials.
Larvin and her companion took their seats comfortably in the business class cabin, and the baggage handlers securely stored their luggage below. Their journey proceeded smoothly without any problems.
In October 2020, the fortune didn’t favor two other women. They were interrogated at the departure gate of Heathrow by Border Force officers, the authority overseeing UK customs and immigration. One of the women informed the officers that she had checked five bags in Dubai as she was uncertain about their contents.
“Oh, my God.” We have been detained,” the woman texted Clark, who was in Dubai. “What the damn.”
The bags were unloaded from the plane. It contained approximately £2 million in cash, about $2.4 million. They also had videos of collected notes being thrown out of shopping bags for refilling.
Investigators believe that the time-stamped videos were meant to serve as evidence of cash transfers for clients involved in money laundering. Authorities identified another member of the smuggling group in the videos through a tattoo on her forearm.
Investigators examined the phone of one of the women, using the gathered information to reconstruct the expansion of Al Falasi’s money laundering network, which eventually involved 36 international couriers.
In December 2020, Clark was arrested with about $9 million in gold on a private plane in Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, said Truby, the chief investigating officer in the case.
UK authorities arrested eight more alleged couriers in May 2021. Seven months later, Al Falasi unexpectedly visited London with his wife and children, staying in an apartment owned by his wife’s family in exclusive Belgravia Square.
One day at lunchtime, government investigators knocked on Al Falasi’s door. They seized three phones that revealed details of his operation, which later emerged in court documents.
Before each trip, Clark forwarded images of travelers’ passports to Al Falasi, enabling him to purchase their airline tickets. He reserved seats for them in Emirates Business Class to utilize the additional baggage allowance, though they ultimately traveled in economy class.
Al Falasi covered the expenses with his credit card, accruing air miles in the process.Clarke paid the couriers for the work, as well as some expenses, such as Covid tests, from her UK bank account.
In Dubai, he traded British pounds for gold and the local currency using various channels, including banks, currency exchange services, and informal transactions like parking exchanges.
Truby, the primary investigator on the case, indicated his belief that Al Falasi and his associates were involved in the smuggling of approximately $250 million from 2017 until Al Falasi’s apprehension in December 2021. Legal representatives asserted that the money was derived from illegal activities. Al-Falasi, as per authorities, never disclosed the identities of his clients.
Al Falasi pleaded guilty in June 2022 to money laundering and was sentenced to 9 years and 7 months in prison.
The government confiscated around £3.5 million of Al Falasi’s assets, including a Mercedes G63, a Ford minivan, and three Rolex watches.
His lawyer said in court that Al-Falasi was a useful idiot for major clients, people whom Al-Falasi never mentioned.
His lawyer said in court that Al-Falasi was a useful idiot for major clients, people whom Al-Falasi never mentioned.
Clark is currently the subject of a money laundering investigation in Dubai. UK authorities are seeking to interview her and other individuals in Dubai regarding their suspected roles in the matter.
Clark’s spouse established a cryptocurrency firm that sponsored boxing events at the Dubai arena. Among the couriers, three received prison sentences while one was acquitted. The courier who illegally transported $5 million tragically took his own life in August 2020. Officials revealed that his phone contained messages about the operation.
Larvin and Johnson were convicted of money laundering last year. In court, they sought to blame Heathrow, the Emirates, and the UAE for not asking questions.
The couple and several other couriers received suspended sentences. Two other couriers were convicted in January and are scheduled to be sentenced later this month.
Johnson said in texts to The Wall Street Journal that he and Larvin were two ordinary people who were duped, and blamed corruption and politics for allowing so much cash to pass through Heathrow Airport to Dubai undetected.
He added that if what they did was a major crime, why don’t airports scan luggage for money?