An Iranian man, who laundered at least £1.6million for people smugglers through his London office, has been convicted.
A National Crime Agency undercover investigation found that Asghar Gheshalghian, 48, ran an unregistered money services business from an office block in Wood Green, London.
The illegal enterprise was 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.
Asghar Gheshalghian arrested
He charged a commission for every illegal payment he received.
Gheshalghian, who operated a rug company as a front for his money laundering activities, was arrested by NCA officers in February 2021, based on 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 per cent of 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, Crime Agency officers 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. Financial investigators were also able to uncover evidence of around £1.6million in payments into his bank accounts.
Evidence was also obtained from a television 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 next Wednesday.
Cash bundles in bag at lockup
National Crime Agency 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.”
“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.”