19 September 2017
Five men have admitted being part of a network responsible for laundering at least £16 million stolen by international cyber criminals, following an investigation by the National Crime Agency.
Iurie Mereacre, a 37-year-old Moldovan national, ran the money laundering service from his home in Woodford Green, London, along with his associates, brothers Iurie Bivol (36) and Serghei Bivol (31), and Ryingota Gincota (28).
Over a three year period, the group set up and controlled around 400 bank accounts in a conspiracy which involved receiving stolen funds into one account, then dispersing it in smaller amounts to a number of other accounts. This process would be repeated several times to disguise the source of the money before it was transferred back to cyber criminals in Eastern Europe.
Nilesh Sheth, 53, a personal banking manager at Barclays, was instrumental in the opening of a large number of these accounts, known as ‘mule’ accounts, using false ID and address documents.
Prior to their arrests on 3 November 2016, the group was under surveillance by the NCA and was seen meeting with Sheth on numerous occasions at the bank, and in public places including restaurants and car parks.
On the day of the arrests, NCA officers recovered multiple mobile phones, financial ledgers, and 70 ‘mule’ packs from Mereacre’s flat. The ‘mule’ packs contained ID and banking documents, bank cards and security information that enabled the group to access the accounts.
Officers also seized a hand-written step-by-step guide to money laundering, which contained instructions on how to move money to accounts at various banks and notes on which accounts had been blocked by bank security.
In a search of Sheth’s house in Redwoods Close, Buckhurst Hill, officers recovered over £16,000 in cash and nine mobile phones hidden in various places around the house, including under the kitchen sink and tucked behind the sofa cushions.
A number of the phones had been used to communicate with Mereacre and contained text messages sent between the pair, organising meetings and payment.
On 15 June 2017 at the Old Bailey Mereacre, Sheth and both Bivol brothers pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. Gincota opted to go to trial but later pleaded guilty to fraud offences on 19 September 2017.
Barclays worked closely with the case team on this investigation which continues to be supported by the UK financial and payments sector.
Mike Hulett, head of Operations at the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said: “Criminals rely heavily on money launderers like Mereacre and his associates in order to access their profits.
“Sheth abused his position of trust at the bank to knowingly open sham accounts for the network, providing a vital service which enabled them to launder £16 million worth of stolen cash.
“We have had tremendous support from colleagues across law enforcement and the banking industry to shut down this money laundering network, causing serious disruption to the organised cyber criminals who used their services.”
Rose-Marie Franton, from the CPS International Justice and Organised Crime Division, said: “These men deliberately and persistently set about transferring millions of pounds of stolen money out of the UK to eastern Europe.
“Working closely with NCA investigators, the CPS presented a strong case with the result that today all the defendants have admitted their guilt.
“The evidence we gathered showed how Nilesh Sheth abused his position as a bank employee for personal gain by facilitating the laundering the criminal proceeds of an organised crime group both within the UK and across borders.”
A Barclays spokesperson said: "This is a rare occasion where an individual deliberately exploited our systems. We have worked with and supported the NCA with this investigation and welcome the outcome of proceedings. Barclays will always support law enforcement in identifying criminal activity and bringing prosecutions."