Northern Ireland news

New suspects in £16m money laundering operation at Belfast bank

Two further suspects have been identified in an alleged £16m money laundering operation centred at a bank in Belfast, a court has heard.

They are set to be questioned by detectives investigating claims that a cash deposit racket was being run by a Chinese crime gang.

Twelve people have already been charged with roles in depositing bundles of money to be spread across the UK.

The alleged operation involved up to 8,000 transactions on 22 separate customer accounts at a city centre branch of an undisclosed bank between January 2018 and May 2019.

Lodgements were made through an ATM system on a daily basis for hours at a time, with details entered for the money to be forwarded on to 3,500 other accounts, according to police.

Dormant accounts in the names of students who had returned home to China to continue their careers were allegedly among those taken over by the gang.

A total of £15.9m suspected to be the proceeds of unspecified crime was passed through the accounts.

Charges of possessing and transferring criminal property, along with conspiracy to conceal, remove and convert criminal property, have been brought against those already arrested.

They include a mother-of-two accused of carrying out 1,160 of the total deposits, involving nearly £2.2m in cash.

Another of the defendants is a university student allegedly paid £300 in return for having £2.5m in laundered money going through an account he set up.

At Belfast Magistrates' Court yesterday it emerged that more individuals have now been identified.

A lawyer for some of those already facing prosecution said: "My understanding is there are two further (suspects) to be interviewed next week."

The development cast further doubt over plans to have existing defendants returned for trial at the Crown Court.

A hearing to confirm if they have a case to answer was pencilled in for the start of December.

But adjourning proceedings, District Judge Fiona Bagnall predicted: "If there are two more to be interviewed that will scupper any timetable."

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