NatWest, gold bars and bags of cash at heart of laundering suit

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NatWest Group Plc was banking laundered street cash for an English gold dealer in sums equivalent to the takings of a Premier League football stadium on match day as part of a “sophisticated” money laundering operation.

Jurors sitting at one of the UK’s largest ever money-laundering trials heard that the gold dealer, Fowler Oldfield, deposited some 266 million pounds ($333 million) through the bank between 2014 and 2016. It was “blindingly obvious” that the money, couriered to the dealer in holdalls and sports bags, was criminal in origin, prosecutors said.

“This was a sophisticated operation to receive criminal cash in such a way that Fowler Oldfield could then persuade NatWest that it was just part of their ordinary business operations,” prosecution lawyer Nicholas Clarke said at the trial in Leeds, northern England.

The bank deposits would range between 780,000 pounds and 2.4 million pounds, with an average daily amount of 1.7 million pounds.

Eight people linked with Fowler Oldfield are on trial for concealing and converting cash in one of the largest prosecutions of money laundering that the UK has ever seen. Prosecutors said gold bars and grain were purchased using the laundered funds for ultimate export to Dubai. All defendants deny the charges saying that authorities couldn’t prove that the cash was criminal.

Jurors were shown video of an employee at Fowler Oldfield sorting notes rolled up into 5,000-pound bundles. “No legitimate source has ever been identified for it,” Clarke said of the cash. CCTV footage from the dealership showed that staff didn’t ask for identification from couriers, and ledgers were left blank — sometimes with just a codeword next to an entry, Clarke said.

In return, couriers might be given a token like a five-pound note or one-dollar bill, he said.

“These money launderers were working with serious criminals,” Clarke alleged. “These defendants together then hid its origin by washing it through a company bank account and using the proceeds to buy gold.”

More than 400,000 pounds was delivered to Fowler Oldfield hidden in a panel inside a door from a driver from Glasgow, Scotland. On another occasion, the cash was concealed inside two toy boxes wrapped in paper disguised as a birthday present.

“The cash could have simply been taken to a bank if it was legitimate, but it had to be paid through Fowler Oldfield to hide its true origins and give it a veneer of respectability,” Clark said.

The bags of cash, some with an “abnormally large” number of Scottish notes or those with an “unusual smell” were then delivered to NatWest counting centers across the country, Clarke said.

(By Jonathan Browning)

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