[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Travel agent jailed in 500m scam
Shahid Bhatti
Shahid Nazir Bhatti admitted taking part in the fraud
A travel agent has become the 11th person to be jailed in connection with a money laundering scam worth 500m.

Bradford Travel Centre owner Shahid Nazir Bhatti, 45, of Shipley Fields, admitted taking part in the fraud.

Bhatti was jailed for three years in the last of a series of court cases that could not be reported until restrictions were lifted on Tuesday.

He was the 11th person to be convicted for the scam, uncovered by revenue officers across West Yorkshire in 2001.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officials targeted a number of travel agents in the county they suspected had been using the "hawala" system of transferring cash abroad.

Literally hundreds of thousands of pounds in 'dirty cash' was being ferried up the M1 on an almost daily basis
David Odd
HM Revenue and Customs

Hawala exchanges are an ancient form of money exchange, used in Asian countries, which bypass the ordinary financial regulatory system.

Investigators were alerted to the activities when financial institutions realised the scale of some of the transactions.

They carried out a series of raids in February 2001.

The fraud centred around travel agencies, including Bhatti's, which alone was believed to have been used to launder more than 42m of illegal money.

Also involved in the operation were Watan Travel, with branches in Bradford and Birmingham, and Ramzan Travel, based in Halifax.

An HRMC spokesman said that couriers working for criminal gangs would collect money from drug traffickers and dealers around the UK and would deliver it to other premises in Leeds for counting and sorting.

Some of the cash recovered during the investigation
Officers believed that gangs laundered millions of pounds

David Odd, HMRC head of investigation for Yorkshire, said: "Literally hundreds of thousands of pounds in 'dirty cash' was being ferried up the M1 on an almost daily basis.

"The money was then deposited into business and personal accounts at various banking outlets, converted into foreign currencies, then transferred to accounts in the United States, the United Arab Emirates and across Europe."

The judicial process was extended after several defendants took their cases to appeal at higher courts, leading to retrials.

Bhatti was originally jailed for 10 years. His conviction was then quashed on appeal and he was jailed for three years at Bradford Crown Court on Tuesday on his second conviction.

The others convicted of the fraud were:

  • Amer Ramzan, of Heath Lea, Halifax. Owner of Ramzan Travel. Initially jailed for 12 years. This conviction was quashed on appeal and he was later jailed for nine years on a second conviction.

  • Faisal Malik, of Thirlmere Close, Leeds. Jailed for 10 years.

  • Imran Syed, of Thirlmere Close, Leeds. Jailed for four years.

  • Shahel Gazi, of Cubitt Street, Kings Cross, London. Jailed for two-and-a-half years.

  • James Carr, of Halkyn Drive, Liverpool. Jailed for 10 years.

  • Claire O'Brien, of Heywood Rd, Manchester. Jailed for two-and-a-half years.

    Mohsan Khan pictured leaving a travel agency
    Mohsan Khan pictured leaving the Ramzan Travel in Halifax

  • Mohsan Khan, 48, of Lance Way, High Wycombe. Jailed for eight years. This conviction was quashed on appeal but he was later jailed for five years on a second conviction.

  • George William Cockerill, now deceased, of Tolmers Road, Cuffley, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. Jailed for three years.

  • Liaquat Ali, 44, of Woodlands Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham. Jailed for 12 years. This conviction was quashed on appeal but he was later jailed for 12 years after a second conviction.

  • Akhtar Hussain, 46, of Skipton Road, Keighley. Jailed for 12 years. This conviction was quashed on appeal but he was later jailed for 12 years on a second conviction.



RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific