A British woman has been jailed after she was caught smuggling millions in cash to Dubai.
Recruitment consultant Tara Hanlon, from Leeds, in the north of England, was caught with £1.9m ($2.6m) in sterling hidden in five suitcases at London’s Heathrow Airport.
She was detained on her fourth smuggling trip.
Judge Karen Holt, sitting at Isleworth Crown Court in London, sentenced her to 34 months’ imprisonment.
A confiscation hearing to recover proceeds of crime from her has been set for September.
Hanlon, 30, pleaded guilty to carrying a total of £3.6m in criminal cash on three trips to the UAE in the summer of 2020.
She was stopped with her largest haul of banknotes on her fourth and final trip, in October last year.
The court heard she was stopped at the airport by a customs official when travelling with a friend.
When asked about the purpose of the visit and her luggage, the defendant said she was going on a “girls’ trip” and that she had checked in the five suitcases because she “wasn’t sure what to wear” whilst there.
Security officials said the find, vacuum packed in five suitcases and covered in ground coffee to hide the smell from sniffer dogs, was the largest individual cash seizure at the UK border in 2020.
In a prepared statement to investigators, Hanlon said that it was the first trip she had taken, that she was not being paid and believed it to be legal as the money would be declared in Dubai.
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However, inquiries with the airline and a search of the defendant’s phone by authorities revealed that she had made three previous visits in July and August as a courier, and had been paid around £3,000 for each trip.
After liaising with authorities in Dubai, the National Crime Agency (NCA) discovered Hanlon had declared she was carrying more than a million pounds in cash upon arrival on each occasion, totalling £3.5 million.
It sparked a broader investigation that led to eight others being arrested over a suspected £50m international money-laundering racket.
Investigators believe Hanlon was part of a wider network of couriers who travel regularly between Britain and Dubai with cash stashed in their luggage.
“Cash is the lifeblood of organised crime and Tara Hanlon was heavily involved in moving several million pounds out of the country,” said Ian Truby, a senior officer at the UK’s National Crime Agency.
“We are determined to do all we can to stop that flow of illicit finance and disrupt the criminal networks involved in money laundering.”
Stephen Grattage, defending, claimed that Hanlon was vulnerable at the time of the offences following the sudden death of her mother in March and having been furloughed from her job shortly afterwards.
However, during sentencing, Judge Karen Holt told her: “Although you were vulnerable at the time, I don’t find that you have been exploited and find that you knew what you were doing.”