Date published: June 01, 2022
Photo: Greater Manchester Police
Detective Sergeant Ben Miller
A new financial investigation team from Greater Manchester Police has returned £2million in cash to victims in its first six months.
The team of six account freezing order specialists, led by Detective Sergeant Ben Miller, was formed last year and is part of GMP’s Economic Crime Unit, which works with law enforcement agencies around the world.
In total, since the unit was established in September 2021, £2million has been returned to victims, including nearly £1.5million to a business in Canada and a further £385,000 to the US , a victim of an investment scam from Manchester.
Before 2021, the freezing of accounts was carried out within the framework of the Economic Crime Unit.
DS Miller said: “We were originally part of the anti-money laundering team, but in 2017 the law changed which allowed us to freeze money in accounts under the law. civil versus criminal law, which can be a lengthy process.
“We were the first force in the UK to use this new legislation successfully in 2018 when we recovered just over £600,000 – such was the disruption to large-scale criminal organizations that a plan was put in place. in place to form a team of specialists.
“We have identified and tracked millions of pounds of criminal money in accounts since then and this allows us to restrict criminals’ access to that money and also return the money to unsuspecting victims.
“At first instance, we would ask the court to freeze an account to give us time to investigate, usually between six and 12 months, and if we can prove that the funds are being used for a criminal purpose, the money is forfeited. Sometimes criminal prosecution will follow.”
In 2020 the team recouped almost £8m, including £6m laundered through a Manchester company which ran adult entertainment websites – the company was posing as legitimate but criminals had used their bank accounts and stolen the details of the administrators – and just over £162,000 from Trafford drug dealer Aram Sheibani, who was jailed for 37 years in June 2021.
All confiscated funds are sent to the Home Office and half are returned to GMP to be reinvested in a range of police and community projects as part of its broader approach to tackling serious and organized crime.
A recent project funded from seized funds was a major donation to the Oldham Mountain Rescue Team.
In addition to the confiscated funds, £16 million worth of cryptocurrency was also seized by the team from a fraudulent investment originating in Hong Kong.
Detective Chief Inspector Joseph Harrop said: “Our Economic and Cybercrime Section is committed to disrupting organized crime and dismantling networks involved in financial crimes.
“To ensure we are the strongest economic crime unit in the country, we have increased funding for our asset recovery teams, restructured the unit to be more proactive and more than doubled the size of our cybercrime section.
“The Account Freezing Order team, along with our Detention and Asset Recovery Unit and Forfeiture and Restraint Unit, will continue to work together to search, recover and retain criminal assets so that those are reinvested in our community.”
“With our new Anti-Money Laundering team, we will do everything in our power to ensure Greater Manchester is not a safe haven for illicit funds, whether they come from drug trafficking, fraud, the sale of counterfeit products or the supply of illegal prescription drugs.
“No matter how hard we try to hide the money through shell companies, we will find it, lose it and reinvest it in the Greater Manchester community.”
Confiscated Criminal Funds
- 2018 – £602,654
- 2019 – £853,192
- 2020 – £7.9m
- 2021 – £3.6m
In January 2022, the team was alerted to a potentially fraudulent transaction of $1.89m, or around £1.45m. Investigations established that the transfer was from a company in Toronto, Canada, for a legitimate business deal after receiving an invoice, but the payment was diverted to a fictitious company with a similar name after a criminal organization doctored an email invoice to add the new account details. . The parody company was registered at an address in Trafford without the knowledge of the owners. The fake account was frozen and the money returned to Canada.
In December 2021, an unsuspecting investor from Denver, US transferred £385,000 to a British citizen who lived in Manchester and posed as an international currency trader. He promised a return of 8% per month.
The investor received 8% for a few months on an initial investment of £35,000 and then sent another £350,000 to invest. The fraud was uncovered by GMP and, with the help of the FBI, it was determined that the investor had been defrauded and the money was being returned.