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Who are the UK-convicted couriers smuggling $130 million to UAE?

The announcement from police of the bust in the UK follows the UAE government's efforts to combat money laundering in the country.
Jonathan Johnson and Jo Emma Larvin

DUBAI — British authorities said on Wednesday that they dismantled a ring of cash couriers who allegedly smuggled more than $100 million from the United Kingdom to the United Arab Emirates

The bust of 11 couriers follows an Emirati official saying the country needs more time to fight money laundering. 

The UK's National Crime Agency said the couriers laundered and smuggled more than 104 million British pounds ($130 million) from the UK to Dubai during 83 trips between November 2019 and October 2020. The couriers were paid around $3,750 for each trip and received business-class airline tickets due to the extra baggage allowance. Each bag carried around $620,000 and weighed roughly 40 kilograms (88 pounds). They coordinated their operations via WhatsApp, according to the agency. 

"The laundering of such vast quantities of cash around the globe enables organized criminals and corrupt elites to clean or hide their ill-gotten gains," said Adrian Searle, who heads the agency's economic crimes division. 

Eleven of the couriers have now been convicted following four guilty verdicts on Tuesday. An unspecified number of people remain under investigation by the United Arab Emirates, the National Crime Agency said. 

Who are they: Among the convicted couriers was Jo Emma Larvin, a model and the ex-girlfriend of former world champion British boxer Joe Calzaghe. 

Larvin, 44, made two trips to Dubai in August and September of 2020. She carried $2.74 million, and then separately $3.48 million along with her partner Jonathan Johnson, who was also convicted Tuesday. 

The convictions were made possible after investigators established that Tara Hanlon, who was convicted of money laundering in June of 2021, had briefed another courier about the operation. Hanlon had traveled from Heathrow to Dubai on three occasions in August and September of 2020, and checked in 18 suitcases with cash amounts that totaled $8.47 million.

Beatrice Auty, convicted on Tuesday, traveled the same route as Hanlon twice in July and August of 2020. She checked in seven suitcases containing $4.24 million. The 26-year-old was also involved in arranging 16 other trips, packing cash into suitcases, and collecting emptied suitcases at Heathrow Airport to be reused. Auty was arrested in an NCA raid in May of 2021. Larvin and Johnson were arrested at Manchester Airport in March 2022, NCA stated.

Five other couriers pleaded guilty in earlier hearings and will receive their sentencing at a later date, along with those convicted on Tuesday. Other couriers remain under investigation. 

Why it matters: The UAE was placed on the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force's "gray list" in 2022, indicating a high degree of money laundering in the country. The Gulf state has been seeking to increase financial transparency since then. In January, the UAE Central Bank issued new anti-money laundering guidance, for example.  

Emirati officials say they need more time to make a dent in money laundering, however. UAE Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri told Bloomberg on Tuesday, "We provided a lot of our policies, a lot of our regulations, but effectiveness means that you need to enforce fines and so forth. That will only come through time." 

Know more: The UAE has also been implicated in a number of sanctions-busting incidents in recent years. Earlier this month, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Emirati companies for allegedly helping Russia evade sanctions related to the war in Ukraine. 

Authorities in the UAE have been working to comply with Russia sanctions as well. In March, the UAE Central Bank canceled the license of Russia's MTS Bank, citing the sanctions risk. 

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