Five members of an international money-laundering gang based in London have been jailed after cops unravelled their malware-enabled conspiracy.
The gang, composed exclusively of Russian nationals, was led by a pair of men who were both named Aslan.
Aslan Abazov, 30, of Cromwell Road, London SW7,was sentenced to seven years and six months’ imprisonment, while Aslan Gergov, 29, of Bath Terrace, London SE1,was sentenced to seven years and three months in jail.
They had both pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to defraud the UK Clearing Banks and two counts of converting criminal property contrary to section 327(1)(c) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Three other gang members – described as “cash mules” in the malware-enabled money laundering network – received lighter sentences for single counts of conspiracy to defraud the UK Clearing Banks as well.
Their crimes began when five business accounts at what is described as a “leading high street bank” were compromised by cybercriminals back in November 2014, though notably none of the charges brought against the men involved offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
Malware was used to transfer almost £1m from the five compromised accounts through 166 “mule” accounts opened by Abazov and Gerov’s employees, prior to being being withdrawn at various currency exchanges across the capital, including at Heathrow Airport, where the funds would be exchanged for typically between €2,000 to €4,000.
The Aslans, alongside a mule, were caught on camera at a west London shop where they had bought £2,504 worth of Euros, before two other mules were arrested after attempting to repeatedly purchase large sums of Euros from foreign exchange outlets at Heathrow Airport.
Detectives determined that the Aslans were the masterminds behind the scheme and arrested the pair on 14 October 2015 before charging them the following day. Forensic analysis of their computers provided evidence that the two had jointly decided which bank accounts were opened and orchestrated the activities of the mules and the movement of the money in and out of the UK.
Among the laundering activities were purchases of expensive women’s jewellery, which would be worn by a mule who would take a flight to Russia and resell it to recoup the funds.
More information was pulled from a number of other devices which belonged to the gang and suggested that additional victims had lost around £3.5m over a two-year period, bringing the known total of their fraudulent activities to around £4.5m, although the Met believes total losses to victims due to the activities of this gang are thought to be far in excess of this figure.
Of the near £1m stolen on 9 November, only £190,000 has been recovered, although according to the Met legal proceedings are set to commence under the Proceeds of Crime Act to confiscate assets and help recover the rest.
Detective Inspector Jason Tunn, of the Met’s Operation Falcon, said that the “evidence in this case showed that Gergov and Abazov were the head of a sophisticated, highly organised, international money laundering project operated to support global cybercrime activity. The losses sustained by the UK victims were significant, with evidence produced to the court showing that the gang’s profits were being used to fund building projects in Russia in further efforts to launder their criminal proceeds.”
Tunn continued: “Their convictions demonstrate the determination with which the Met Police will actively pursue these criminals to disrupt their activities and arrest them.”