Indian-Origin Man, Arrested For Bank Fraud, Must Forfeit Funds In UK

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Nilesh Sheth pleaded guilty to his role in setting up around 400 fake bank accounts (Representational)

LONDON:

A jailed Indian-origin former bank employee was ordered on Monday to forfeit 62,000 pounds by a UK court for his role in a money laundering scam to help Romanian criminals by opening around 400 fake bank accounts.

Nilesh Sheth had pleaded guilty to his role in setting up around 400 fake accounts to help Romanian criminals to launder more than 16 million pounds (Rs 153 crore approx) and sentenced to four years behind bars in November last year.

The 54-year-old, serving his sentence for money laundering and possessing criminal property, was told by a proceeds of crime hearing at the Old Bailey court in London this week to pay 62,000 pounds (Rs 59.19 lakhs) within three months or serve an extra year in jail.

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"Sheth abused his position of trust at the bank to knowingly open sham accounts for the network, providing a vital service which enabled them to launder GBP 16 million worth of stolen cash," said Mike Hulett, head of Operations at the National Crime Agency's (NCA) National Cyber Crime Unit.

The NCA found that Sheth, a personal banking manager at Barclays, was instrumental in the opening of a large number of "mule" accounts, using false ID and address documents. Its investigation revealed that mastermind Iurie Mereacre ran the money laundering service from his home in east London, along with his associates, Ryingota Gincota and brothers Iurie and Serghei Bivol.

Over a three-year period, the gang of five set up and controlled around 400 bank accounts in a conspiracy which involved receiving stolen funds into one account, then dispersing it in smaller amounts to a number of other accounts to try and confuse authorities. This process would be repeated several times to disguise the source of the money before it was transferred back to cyber criminals in Eastern Europe.

Prior to their arrests in November 2016, the gang was under surveillance by the NCA and was seen meeting with Sheth on numerous occasions at the bank and in public places including restaurants and car parks. When officers raided Sheth's home at the time, they found 16,000 pounds in cash, nine mobile phones and a handwritten guide to money laundering.

"These men deliberately and persistently set about transferring millions of pounds of stolen money out of the UK to eastern Europe," said Rose-Marie Franton, from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) International Justice and Organised Crime Division, during the time of their sentencing last year.

"The evidence we gathered showed how Nilesh Sheth abused his position as a bank employee for personal gain by facilitating the laundering the criminal proceeds of an organised crime group both within the UK and across borders," she said.

The court heard how Sheth started the scam after criminals tempted him with money that he stuffed behind cushions and under the kitchen sink at his home in Essex, near London.

He used his Barclays office to meet 38-year-old Mereacre, an illegal immigrant, and his associates, all of whom have since been jailed for a total of 28 years.

Barclays said it worked closely with the authorities during the investigation.

A spokesperson said: "Barclays will always support law enforcement in identifying criminal activity and bringing prosecutions."

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