Eastern 'mafia' using London to launder money

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The Independent Online
SENIOR police intelligence officers believe that a growing tide of funds from the former Soviet Union going through the British money markets may be linked to organised crime. At the moment it is believed to rank behind the Mafia, the Triads and Colombian drug money in scale, but is expected to grow.

At a press briefing yesterday in response to the assassination of a woman in Surrey at the weekend, a source at the Police National Central Intelligence Service in London said it had a number of eastern Europeans on its database as people who might be involved in money- laundering.

In the Surrey killing, Karen Reed, 33, was shot four times at her Woking home. Her sister, Alison Ponting, 31, a producer with the BBC World Service, is married to a man jailed for life for murdering two high-ranking officials of the self-proclaimed Chechen republic in exile in London last February.

Ms Ponting told police she believes the gunmen who killed her sister may have been hired to avenge the death of the two from the Chechen republic.

The police source, who declined to discuss any aspect of the shooting, said the intelligence unit's organised crime officers were aware of sums, sometimes millions of dollars at a time, being deposited by businessmen while on visits to London. The Criminal Justice Act, which came into force last month, made it illegal for banks who were suspicious of any transaction not to tell the police their suspicions.

He said London was very stable, and the money market spanned the time zones of the US and the Far East, making it very attractive for legitimate and illegal money. It was already used by the Mafia as a 'rest and recreation' centre.

It was already known that Russians would arrive in London with large amounts of money, stay a few days and deposit it with British financial institutions.

He said the intelligence unit had been informed of a meeting in London earlier this year between an eastern European group and a man with connections with the Mafia, but the connection was 'nebulous'.

The main areas of organised crime likely to spread from the former Soviet Union were drugs and vice. 'There is an established route for drugs through eastern Europe, but we are not aware of them being manufactured there,' he said. Organised prostitution was being noted and could spread to Britain.