£10m fraudulent Bounce Back Loans (BBLs) laundered through shell companies
Ten members of a network who laundered £70m for organised criminals have now been sentenced.
The final three members of the London-based group were sentenced today after their criminal enterprise was taken out following a five-year investigation by the Organised Crime Partnership – a joint National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service unit.
It was headed up by Artem Terzyan, 39, from Russia, and Deivis Grochiatskij, 45, from Lithuania.
Investigators used evidence gained via surveillance, combined with the analysis of banking and Companies' House records, to prove the pair set up bank accounts linked to shell companies to launder the money through.
Money would be sent from one shell company to another in a complex web of transfers, before it was sent out to international accounts held in countries including Germany, Czech Republic, U.A.E, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
The two men also laundered £10m they had generated by claiming fraudulent Bounce Back Loans (BBLs) for the various shell companies they had set up.
Additionally, OCP investigators identified that the group traded in the sale and purchase of luxury pre-owned watches as another way to launder illicit cash.
Andy Tickner, from the Organised Crime Partnership, said: "This was a painstaking and complex investigation in which the team analysed reams of financial data and transactions, as well as conducting hundreds of hours of surveillance.
"Ultimately the case proved that Terzyan and Grochiatskij had built a sophisticated, large-scale money laundering system which saw them transfer £70m worth of criminal cash out of the UK.
"We were also able to build a picture around the structure of the network, as well as members' individual roles in setting up bogus companies and moving money, both physically between bank accounts.
"This network played a vital role in enabling other criminals to conceal and access their illicit earnings. The removal of this service will have been a massive blow to organised criminals in the UK and globally."
The OCP's investigation began in October 2017 when surveillance officers watched a handover in North West London, in which a man placed a large bag of cash in an Audi.
Over the next eight months the same Audi travelled extensively around the UK, stopping briefly at lorry parks and service stations to collect cash from other criminals before returning to London.
It was regularly driven to Munnings House in Docklands, East London, where Terzyan and Grochiatskij both lived in flats next door to each other, and from where they ran their criminal operation.
Alexandrs Vohmjanins, 50, was later identified as the driver of the Audi and the main cash courier for the network.
On one occasion, officers watched as he picked up money in Manchester from Michael Simpson, 37, who was the cash courier for a different crime group based in the north of England.
Aurimas Bielskis, 41, and Vladlens Kukjans, 33, also regularly attended Munnings House, but their roles differed to Vohmjanins. They would usually arrive empty handed then leave with bags full of money, which they would deliver to criminal associates across the capital.
Kukjan's housemate, Vitalijs Slapkins-Slapkovs, 34, was listed as a shell company director, along with Nedas Kiviliauskas, 34, and Anastasia Malii, 31, who was a close friend of the Grochiatskij family.
The two main men were seen, along with other members of their criminal network, including Grochiatskij's wife, Renata Grochiatskaja, 42, opening accounts in banks across London, then depositing tens of thousands of pounds into them at a time.
All three were arrested in June 2018, along with Vohmjanins and Malii. The rest of the network were detained later that year.
A financial investigator analysed hundreds of bank accounts controlled by Terzyan and Grochiatskij and was able to evidence that the men had laundered a minimum of £36m in 2017-2018, with £16m of that coming from cash deposits.
While on bail, Terzyan, Grochiatskij and Bielskis worked together to exploit the Government's Covid-19 support scheme by claiming fraudulent Bounce Back Loans (BBL) for the various shell companies.
They claimed up to £50,000 a time, generating over £10m in total.
On top of this, Terzyan and Grochiatskij continued to launder criminal cash using the same method as before.
Between June 2018 and November 2020, when the pair were arrested again, they laundered a further £34m including the £10m they generated from the BBLs.
Both men were each charged with two counts of money laundering, for which they were found guilty following a seven-week trial at Kingston Crown Court.
In December 2021 Terzyan was sentenced to 17 years in prison and Grochiatskij to 16 years.
The rest of the group were charged with one count of money laundering in relation to the £36m laundered in 2017, with an additional charge for Bielskis for the Bounce Back Loan fraud.
Kiviliauskas was also charged with possession with intent to supply class B drugs, after officers discovered a cannabis farm at his home when arresting him.
Vohmjanins, Grochiatskaja, Malii and Kukjans were convicted in March 2022. Vohmjanins was jailed for four years while the others received sentences of two years suspended for two years.
The final four went to trial this year but all ended up pleading guilty at various points. Simpson was sentenced on 30 January to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months, and 150 hours community service.
Bielskis and Slapkins-Slapkovs were sentenced today [10 March] at Kingston Crown Court to 22 months in prison, suspended for two years, plus Bielskis received 250 hours of community service. Kivilauskas was also sentenced today to 23 months, suspended for two years, and must do 350 hours of community service.
The proceeds of crime investigation into the network remains ongoing.
The OCP obtained freezing orders on four bank accounts, the contents of which - over £181,000 – have since been confiscated, as it was assessed to be recoverable property.
Kukjans has been ordered to pay back over £12,500 within three months. If he doesn't, he faces six months in prison and will still be liable for the money.
Grochiatskaja and Malii have been ordered to pay back £843 and £668 respectively within three months, or face one month in prison.
Confiscation proceedings against the other members will follow.
10 March 2023
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