A London-based cash courier cell which attempted to smuggle hundreds of thousands of pounds out of the UK has been dismantled, with NCA investigators playing a crucial role.
By piecing together evidence linking the flight details of suspects, NCA officers proved that three attempts to smuggle cash by dual British / Albanian nationals out of the UK totalling £215,960 were connected.
The individual investigations were led by the NCA, Essex Police and the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), supported by Border Force.
The probe started in February 2019 after Essex Police seized £100,980 from Ismet Hoxha at Stansted Airport. Investigators at Essex Police identified further individuals and worked in partnership with the other agencies who took the cases forward. This enabled NCA officers to seize £79,980 from Ervin Fejzaj at the same airport in April 2019 and the ERSOU to seize £35,000 from Lema Aliaj at Luton Airport in July 2019.
Working together, specialist financial investigators compared evidence and established that the seizures were connected and that the three had personal, travel and financial links.
The NCA collated travel information and produced schedules covering three years of travel history. This showed travel patterns which were consistent with that of cash couriers removing the proceeds of crime from the UK. Each agency used this evidence at court hearings between June 2020 and January 2021, which resulted in successful forfeiture of the money.
Jacque Beer, NCA Regional Head of Investigation South – London East, said: “Money is the lifeblood of organised crime so it is vital that anyone found in possession of huge quantities of cash can prove that it has been obtained legitimately.
“This was not the case for any of these forfeiture cases.
“We will continue to work with partners across law enforcement to tackle the criminality behind illicit cash.”
Investigators found that the three had flown from the UK more than 80 times within the space of three years, suggesting that large sums of money may have been transported from the UK.
Evidence showed all had undertaken travel involving multiple short trips to Europe, often with the outbound and return journeys booked as one-way flights. They had previously travelled on the same flights but sat separately in an attempt to disguise their association.
Ismet Hoxha, a friend of Ervin Fejzaj, claimed he gave Fejzaj much of the cash seized from him.
Aliaj is the ex-wife of Fejzaj but gave his address as her current address. The bank withdrawal slip she showed Border Force officers at Luton was the same one shown to officers by her ex-husband at Stansted in April 2019.
After his cash seizure, Fejzaj travelled again from Gatwick Airport alone without checked luggage. He was spoken to by Border Force Officers and showed the same banking slip evidence. Investigators subsequently found that his ex-wife made his booking for the trip and that she travelled on the same flight on a separate ticket booked by him. Investigators believe Fejzaj acted as a decoy so that Aliaj could successfully travel without interest from law enforcement.