Gang first in Scotland jailed for ‘cuckoo’ scam

The group of men were sentenced at the High Court in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
The group of men were sentenced at the High Court in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
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A GROUP of men who have become the first in Scotland to be convicted of a major money-laundering scam known as “cuckoo smurfing” have been jailed for almost 10 years.

Shopkeeper Muhammed Hameed roped in his uncle Saleem Shikari and worker Shahid Aslam to hide almost £700,000 of ill-gotten gains belonging to Scots gangsters.

The sophisticated scheme the trio were part of involves crime gangs replacing legitimate sums of cash – intended for transfer overseas – with “dirty” money.

They were caught as part of Operation Confab – a huge probe set up to catch Hameed and his criminal associates.

When police swooped in 2013, the three were caught red-handed with a plastic bag stuffed with £75,000 of bank-notes at Hameed’s Dundee flat.

Hameed, 32 Aslam, 36, and Shikari, 52, are now behind bars after the they each pled guilty at the High Court in Glasgow to a charge under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Sheriff Johanna Johnston QC yesterday jailed Hameed for five and a half years for his part in the scheme. She told him: “You became involved in a sophisticated scheme. A large amount of money over a relatively long period of time was laundered.

“It involved innocent third parties who unwittingly had their confidential bank details used and passed on to others.”

Aslam and Shikari were each jailed for two years for their parts in the operation.

In 2013, police got a tip-off that Hameed was involved in a large-scale money-laundering operation with international links. The highly complex crime is known as “cuckoo smurfing”.

This involves gangsters effectively hiding “dirty money” away from the eyes of police and the authorities.

Prosecutor Steven Borthwick explained how the scam can work. He told how an unsuspecting overseas customer would go to send funds to the UK to another innocent individual.

But, unknown to them, the person handling the transfer is linked to a money-laundering gang. This individual – the “controller” – will then pass on account details to a UK crime mob.

The next step sees this gang replace the legitimate money with their ill-gotten gains – and the customer expecting the cash transfer is none the wiser.

The money originally deposited overseas is retained by the “controller”. He instead transfers these funds to “a cash pool account” often based in Dubai.

This is then used as an avenue to transfer money back to the UK gangsters.

Mr Borthwick added: “The criminal proceeds raised by the UK-based crime gangs have thus been successfully laundered and the gang owes nothing but a commission to the ‘controller’.

“It is a sophisticated crime operated by a syndicate of highly organised crime gangs.”