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Air Miles Helped Investigators Crack $130M Money Laundering Scheme

by Staff
  • 16 people have been convicted as part of a $130 million money laundering scheme.
  • The ringleader booked business-class flights for couriers on his Emirates card, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • Authorities said his frequent-flier miles helped them trace the operation.

Tracing a ringleader’s frequent-flier miles helped investigators crack an international money laundering scheme, The Wall Street Journal reported.

More than £104 million ($131 million) in cash was smuggled from London to Dubai in 83 trips, the National Crime Agency said.

The NCA said the network collected cash from criminal groups across the UK, believed to be the proceeds of drug dealing, and packed it into suitcases containing about $500,000 each.

Two couriers were found guilty at a London court last week, bringing the total convicted in relation to the operation to 16.

The NCA said Mehdi Amarollahibiyouki checked in 12 suitcases containing £4.3 million over three trips to Dubai in February and March 2020. And Ali Al-Nawab took nine suitcases containing £3.2 million across two trips.

According to the agency, the couriers communicated via WhatsApp groups including one named “Sunshine and lollipops.”

The couriers were paid up to £5,000 ($6,300) for each trip and were booked in business-class seats because of the extra luggage allowance, the NCA said.

According to the Journal, ringleader Abdullah Alfalasi booked the couriers’ flights using his Emirates credit card, earning frequent flier miles he then used to take first-class flights himself.

Authorities said the Emirates Skywards miles helped them trace the operation, the Journal reported.

Alfalasi, 48, was sentenced in July 2022 to more than nine years in jail.

Mehdi Amrollahbibiyouki and Ali Al-Nawab

Mehdi Amrollahbibiyouki and Ali Al-Nawab will be sentenced in March.


Ian Truby, NCA senior investigating officer, said: “Al-Nawab and Amrollahbibiyouki were part of an industrial-scale money laundering operation that saw huge amounts of criminal cash smuggled out of the UK.

“Their convictions mark a further dismantlement of this prolific and extensive criminal network.”

Amrollahbibiyouki and Ali Al-Nawab are due to be sentenced on March 8.

A number of other British citizens remain under investigation in relation to the scheme in the United Arab Emirates, per the NCA.

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