Drugs money launderer hid £500,000 in washing machine

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The Independent Online

A crime boss who tried to launder more than £500,000 of drug money using a washing machine was jailed for four and a half years today.

Karim Bernia, 39, dispatched a van driver to carry nearly £700,000 in cash from cannabis dealing to Morocco.

When the vehicle was stopped in Dover in March nearly £600,000 was found in a hollowed-out washing machine in the back and £85,000 in the front.

Lyall Thompson, prosecuting, said: "The internal workings of this machine had been removed and that cavity had been filled to the brim with black sacks containing cash."

Tests on the 143 bundles of money found showed significant traces of cannabis, the court heard.

After arresting the driver, El-Hassan Bouhafna, police tracked down Bernia to his home in Atkinson Road, Plaistow, east London.

Keys found at the property led them to a second van where they discovered another hollowed-out washing machine, the Old Bailey heard.

Mr Thompson said: "Mr Bernia was running a substantial money laundering enterprise. He was transferring large amounts of cash derived through drug activities to Morocco."

The judge, Recorder Douglas Day QC, said: "Those who involve themselves in this level of money laundering must expect to be dealt with severely."

Bouhafna, 45, a Moroccan of no fixed address, who was said to be a trusted associate of Bernia's, was jailed for 21 months after pleading guilty to transferring criminal property totalling £85,000.

Bernia, who is also from Morocco, admitted the same count, and a second relating to £600,000.

The judge told him: "I have no doubt that you are higher up the organisation - if not at the very top.

"You were responsible for implementing a reasonably sophisticated scheme for exporting large amounts of money to Morocco.

"This was a very serious case of money laundering relating to the poisonous trade of drug trafficking."