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A Chinese mother and her two UK-based sons have agreed to hand over London properties worth more than £1.6 million, in response to a NCA civil recovery claim that linked their purchases with suspected money laundering.

The family came to the attention of the National Crime Agency through links identified between, Shuyu Cao – one of the sons who came to the UK as a student in 2012 – and convicted money launderer, Fen Chen.

Chinese national, Fen Chen was jailed in 2017 for more than six years for her part in an organised crime group that paid more than £1.8 million in criminal cash into high street banks over a two-week period.

She was found to be cleaning money for an Albanian drugs gang.

Accounts analysed by the NCA showed Fen Chen directed multiple cash deposits into Cao’s UK account during her offending, triggering a search of his London property in 2016.

Met Police officers found more than £60,000 in cash at Shuyu Cao’s property, leading to a further NCA investigation in 2018 and eventually, a civil claim at the High Court in London this week.

The NCA alleged that money paid into Shuyu’s accounts was likely to have derived from serious and organised crime, having analysed evidence which showed patterns synonymous with Chinese underground banking, otherwise known as Daigou.

The practice stems from restrictions on how much money can legally leave China under currency export controls (which caps transfers out at USD $50,000 per person per annum).

Cao’s account, paired with his brother’s, Shucheng Cao, showed multiple large and suspicious cash deposits over a three-year period, which had been processed through money service bureaus.

Shuyu Cao used the funds, in part, to purchase high-value properties across London, two of which are now being recovered by the NCA.

A further three properties, and the contents of a bank account with more than £300,000 in it, formed part of the NCA’s original claim.

A property freezing order preventing the sale of the properties (together with funds in the bank account) was granted in 2018 and after a three day trial at the High Court, the defendants agreed to surrender two of these to the NCA.

Collectively, the two properties, a flat on Queensland Road, North London, and a house on Astell Road, Kidbrooke, were purchased for just over £1.4 million, but are deemed to now be worth more than £1.6 million.

The settlement agreement will allow the NCA to sell the properties to recover £1.3 million in funds.

Stephen Brown, Operations Manager at the NCA, said: “We are pleased with the result of this case, which represents a great outcome for the Agency and £1.3 million returned to the public purse.

“The deposits into Cao’s accounts in this case were irregular, random, and came from all over the UK and the NCA’s case was that they bore all the classic hallmarks of money laundering.

“Money laundering underpins serious and organised crime and stopping it as an enabler is a key priority for the NCA and its partners.”

Kevin Soobrayen, Head of Threat Response at the National Economic Crime Centre, said: “This case demonstrates the continued commitment by the NCA and law enforcement to crackdown on the laundering of illicit finance through mechanisms such as underground banking.

“Targeting enablers, and recovering criminally obtained property, weakens serious and organised criminals and protects the UK economy.”