- Asghar Gheshalghian acted as a banker for the trafficking gangsters
- The 48-year-old transferred money using the so-called Hawala system
An Iranian businessman nicknamed Mr G who ran a rug company as a front for laundering millions of pounds made from illegal small boats gangs has been jailed for eight years.
Asghar Gheshalghian, 48, acted as a banker for gangsters trafficking tens of thousands of illegal migrants across the Channel.
Gheshalghian, known as Mr G by his associates in France, transferred money using the so-called Hawala system.
Hawala is an informal portal for sending funds from one location to another through providers, known as hawaladars, regardless of the nature of the transaction and the countries involved.
Gheshalghian ran his money services firm from an office block in Wood Green, north London and acted as a trusted middleman, accepting payments from migrants or their families.
Asghar Gheshalghian, 48, acted as a banker for the gangsters trafficking tens of thousands of illegal immigrants across the English Channel
Cash bundles found in a bag at a lockup. Gheshalghian, known as Mr G by his associates in France, transferred money using the so-called Hawala system
He then released money to the criminal gangs after the migrants had arrived in the country and charged a hefty commission.
Gheshalghian was arrested by National Crime Agency (NCA) officers in February 2021 after a two-year investigation.
Phone evidence showed links to at least eight Iranian migrants who later arrived in the UK by boat or lorry and claimed asylum.
NCA investigators obtained covert recordings of him talking to associates on the phone, admitting ’70-80 per cent of our business is illegal’.
Gheshalghian also bragged that people smuggling gangs trusted him to deal with financial transactions on their behalf.
He said: ‘They approve me, they know I won’t cheat on them, once the task is completed – money.’
Following Gheshalghian’s arrest, the NCA searched his business premises, a storage lock-up and his home in east London, seizing around £50,000 in cash.
Officers also recovered ledgers outlining transactions, while financial investigators were able to evidence around £1.6m in payments into his bank accounts.
Evidence was also obtained from an ITV documentary in which undercover reporters approached a people smuggler in northern France, who discussed sending money through a broker called ‘Mr G’ – Gheshalghian.
The people smuggler was later convicted in France.
Prosecutor Martin Bisgrove said: ‘The prosecution say, Mr Gheslagian had a high level of culpability. These were planned offences in which he took a leading role.
‘Mr Gheslagian knew a number of people smugglers. He would refer people to people smugglers on request.
‘He would hold the money of people travelling here, until they arrived and then pay the people smugglers after the event.
‘He was not involved in the actual provision of the RHIBs (rigid hull inflatable boats) or the lorries.’
He added: ‘In terms of harm, the harm caused by these offences is two-fold. Firstly the risk of harm to the UK immigration system.
‘Secondly the risk of harm to migrants smuggled into the UK.
‘Again, we would submit that the offending (money laundering offences) was of high culpability.
‘Calculating the precise amount laundered is not straightforward.
Michael Oatley, Unit Head for the CPS, said: ‘Through his money laundering service, Gheshlaghian helped fund and facilitate dangerous criminals who exploited migrants and undermined UK border security for his own financial benefit.’ Pictured: Migrants crossing the Channel (File Photo)
‘Prosecution do not say and have never said that all those transactions concern criminal property.
‘Plainly a proportion of it was criminal property and on a number of occasions, Mr Gheslagian considered 70-80 per cent was illegal.
‘The offence requires only suspicion to be complete, but we submit that Mr Gheslagian plainly knew that the money was criminal property.’
John Hurlock, defending, said Gheshalgian does not have any relevant convictions and was made bankrupt in 2010.
He added: ‘His wife came over in 2010. They have two children. She does not work and she is on benefits.
‘With the custodial sentence that the defendant is inevitably going to serve, other people are going to suffer.’
Sentencing Judge Martin Griffith told Gheshalgian: ‘You ran an illegal money service bureau, having been legal for years.
‘Your part… was to offer a trusted service in which the people to be smuggled would give you their fares. You would inform the people smugglers and the people would then be carried to the UK, whether by boat, or in a lorry.
‘When they were safely into the UK, either to seek asylum immediately or to chance their arm, you would pay the people smugglers, less your commission for your work. That is why you were doing it for gain.
‘It was a crossing of the Channel, in which the trust placed in you by both sides oiled the wheels and allowed both sides to have confidence that they would not be ripped off.
‘Your reputation preceded you and allowed you to smooth the smuggling process.
‘I have to characterize your role. You were not a leading party, that or they were the people smugglers, but you played a significant role in ensuring that both sides could trust in what was due to happen.
‘Your role was over a long period of time, the span of each count being four and a half years.’
He continued: ‘There is clearly harm, it has to be said, sometimes serious risk, in assisting those travelling by RHIB across the Channel, albeit the asylum seekers are determined to cross come what may.
‘Parliament has made it an offence to assist them in their endeavours for money, which is what the jury found you had done.
‘It is often said, it is the people smugglers the authorities ought to be looking to try and stop people coming across the Channel and I am afraid you played a significant factor in that.
‘It was done as part of a group. There was planning, there was financial gain, the location and timing was relevant, and prevalence. The authorities speak over the years of the need to mark those caught with serious sentences of imprisonment.
‘You were not the leading person but a significant player.’
Gheshalghian’s wife wept in court as he was jailed for a total of eight years.
NCA Branch Commander Mark Howes said: ‘By his own admission Asghar Gheshalghian was trusted by organised crime gangs to handle their payments and launder the money they made through organising dangerous Channel boat and lorry crossings.
‘In doing so he enabled their criminality and happily took a cut from the profits they made from it.
‘Crossing the Channel illegally in boats or lorries is extremely dangerous. Sadly in recent days/weeks we have seen it can have fatal consequences.
‘This is why disrupting and dismantling the gangs involved in organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA.
‘Targeting their financial flows through agents like Gheshalghian is just one of the ways we are doing that.’
Gheshalghian, of East Ham, denied but was convicted by a jury of five counts of money laundering and facilitating illegal immigration.
Michael Oatley, Unit Head for the CPS, said: ‘Asghar Gheshlaghian knowingly ran an unregulated money service business to help criminal gangs smuggle people into the UK illegally.
‘People smugglers treat vulnerable migrants desperate for a better life as goods, often putting their safety and even lives at risk for profit. Through his money laundering service, Gheshlaghian helped fund and facilitate dangerous criminals who exploited migrants and undermined UK border security for his own financial benefit.
‘This prosecution sends a clear message that the CPS, alongside law enforcement, will work tirelessly to help dismantle these criminal networks trying to facilitate illegal immigration.’