A man who laundered money for people smuggling networks involved in small boats crossings has been found guilty, following a National Crime Agency investigation.
Iranian Asghar Gheshalghian, 48, ran an unregistered money services business from an office block in Wood Green, as part of a network of bankers transferring money using the hawala system.
He acted as a trusted middleman, accepting payments from migrants or their families, and then releasing money to the criminal gangs following the completion of their journeys to the UK, charging a commission at the same time.
Gheshalghian, who operated a rug company as a front for his money laundering activities, was arrested by NCA officers in February 2021 based on a wealth of evidence built up during a two-year investigation.
Phone evidence showed links with at least eight Iranian migrants who later arrived in the UK by boat or lorry and claimed asylum.
NCA investigators subsequently obtained covert recordings of him talking to associates on the phone, admitting that “70-80 percent our business is illegal”.
In other conversations he was heard bragging that people smuggling gangs trusted him to deal with financial transactions on their behalf, saying “they approve me, they know I won’t cheat on them, once the task is completed – money”.
Following his arrest, the NCA searched his business premises, a storage lock-up and his home in East Ham, seizing around £50,000 in cash.
Officers also recovered ledgers outlining transactions, while financial investigators were able to evidence around £1.6 million in payments into his bank accounts.
Evidence was also obtained from an ITV documentary where undercover reporters approached a people smuggler in northern France, who discussed sending money through a broker called “Mr G” – Gheshalghian. The people smuggler was later convicted in France.
Following a two-week trial at Southwark Crown Court Gheshalghian was found guilty of five counts of money laundering and facilitating illegal immigration. He will be sentenced on Wednesday 24 January.
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.”
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.”
18 January 2024