Kirkcaldy man one of three jailed for cuckoo smurfing

The High Court in Glasgow.
The High Court in Glasgow.

Three men have been jailed for a total of nine and a half years for their role in an international fraud and Scotland’s first ‘cuckoo smurfing’ case.

Muhammed Zeeshan Abdul Hameed (32), from Dundee, was sentenced to five years, six months in jail; while Shahid Aslam (36), from Kirkcaldy, and Saleem Mohammed Shikari (50), from Dundee were both sentenced to two years imprisonment having pleaded guilty to the charges on August 21 this year.

The accused were apprehended in August 2013 when police carried out surveillance in Dundee and observed an individual clandestinely hand over to Hameed a bag subsequently found to contain £75,150 in cash.

Hameed was followed into his house where he was found to be in possession of the money and a counting machine.

After further investigation, police found that Hameed, Aslam and Shikhari had made large deposits into third party accounts at various banks in Dundee over a period of months in 2013.

Hameed, Aslam and Shikari were found to have received instructions via mobile telephone calls and text messages from contacts in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere providing them with account numbers, sort codes and the names of account holders who were at that time expecting to receive transfers of money into their accounts from overseas, in particular from Pakistan and Iran.

They then deposited equivalent sums of cash, being the proceeds of local crimes, into the accounts without the knowledge of the account holders.

The money originally intended for the account holders was then re-routed to the local criminals, minus a commission for the launderers.

In this way they were found to have laundered criminal property worth at least £672,382.

‘Cuckoo Smurfing’ is a recognised form of international money laundering conducted by organised crime groups, which refers to paying multiple amounts of cash in small denominations into the bank accounts of other people.

The successful conviction – the first for this type of fraud in Scotland – is the result of very close working between prosecutors, Police Scotland and the National Crime Agency in the investigation and preparation of the case and in the arrangement of expert witnesses.

Lindsey Miller, procurator fiscal for organised crime and counter-terrorism, said: “These men played a key role in an international fraud on a truly vast scale.

“This case demonstrates the ability of prosecutors in Scotland to conduct investigations that stretch across legal jurisdictions and continents, to outsmart highly experienced organised crime groups, and to bring to justice individuals involved in extremely complex frauds.”

Detective Inspector Scott Thompson said: “I would like to thank all the dedicated and hard working officers who were involved in this tremendously complex investigation which spanned the globe.

“Police Scotland worked closely with colleagues at the NCA and COPFS to close down Hameed, Aslam and Shikari’s illegal money laundering operation.

“They no doubt thought that by using a complex network of contacts, bank accounts and technology, their sophisticated fraud would continue and they would not be brought to justice.

“However, today’s sentencing, following the first conviction in Scotland for this type of fraud, clearly demonstrates that regardless of how clever those involved in criminality believe they are, Police Scotland, working with its partners, will continue to dismantle serious and organised crime whenever and wherever it takes place.”

Andrew Pollock, NCA senior manager in Scotland, said: “Most criminals are motivated by money and they need launderers like this group to process the proceeds of a broad range of activities including drug trafficking, fraud and other acquisitive crimes, enabling further criminal activity.

“This money is often diverted abroad, making it more difficult to trace. But working with law enforcement partners at home and abroad we are determined to do all we can to disrupt the organised criminal networks - like this one - involved in money laundering.”