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28 years for network that used corrupt banker to launder millions

Five men have been jailed for a total of 28 years for their roles in a network responsible for laundering at least £6.9 million stolen by international cyber criminals, following an investigation by the National Crime Agency.

Iurie Mereacre, a 37-year-old Moldovan national, ran the money laundering service from his home in Woodford Green, London, along with his associates Iurie Bivol (36), Serghei Bivol (31), and Ryingota Gincota (28).

Over a three year period, the group 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. 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.

Nilesh Sheth, 53, a personal banking manager at Barclays, was instrumental in the opening of a large number of these accounts, known as ‘mule’ accounts, using false ID and address documents.

Prior to their arrests on 3 November 2016, the group 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.

On the day of the arrests, NCA officers recovered multiple mobile phones, financial ledgers, and 70 mule packs from Mereacre’s flat. The mule packs contained ID and banking documents, bank cards and security information that enabled the group to access the accounts.

Officers also seized a hand-written step-by-step guide to money laundering, which contained instructions on how to move money to accounts at various banks and notes on which accounts had been blocked by bank security.

In a search of Sheth’s house in Redwoods Close, Buckhurst Hill, officers recovered over £16,000 in cash and nine mobile phones hidden in various places around the house, including under the kitchen sink and tucked behind the sofa cushions.

A number of the phones had been used to communicate with Mereacre and contained text messages sent between the pair, organising meetings and payment.

By September 2017 following various hearings, all five men had pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy.

Yesterday at the Old Bailey, Mereacre was sentenced to ten years in prison whilst his second in command, Iurie Bivol, was was sentenced to seven years. Sheth, Gincota and Serghei Bivol were sentenced to four years, three years and eight months, and three years and five months respectively.

Barclays worked closely with the case team on this investigation which continues to be supported by the UK financial and payments sector.

Yesterday’s sentencing forms part of a wider NCA investigation, assisted by the FBI and the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance (NCFTA) in the US, into the UK-based money laundering networks supporting elite cyber criminals.

Between March 2015 and November 2016, a number of US victims were identified as having their money stolen by cyber criminals using Dyre malware. In each case, the malware would be hidden in the attachments of seemingly legitimate emails that once opened, gave cyber fraudsters access to the victims’ banking details.

As well as those sentenced yesterday, a further six individuals were jailed in the UK this year for laundering a combined $408,381 of stolen funds.

Mike Hulett, head of Operations at the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said: “Yesterday’s sentencing is the culmination of a complex, international investigation into professional money laundering networks here in the UK.

“Criminals rely heavily on the services provided by individuals like Sheth who abused his position at the bank to knowingly open sham accounts to assist Mereacre’s network with laundering millions.

“With the support of the banking industry and law enforcement partners in the UK, the US, Romania and Moldova, we have successfully shut down these networks, causing major disruption to organised cyber criminals who will no longer have access to their stolen profits.”

A Barclays spokesperson said: "This is a rare occasion where an individual deliberately exploited our systems. We have worked with and supported the NCA with this investigation and welcome the outcome of proceedings. Barclays will always support law enforcement in identifying criminal activity and bringing prosecutions."

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