A husband and wife from Hertfordshire who tried to smuggle more than £200,000 out of the UK during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown have been convicted of money laundering.
Ardian Sharra, 51, and Valbona Laloshi, 41, from Tring were investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA) after their Mercedes car was stopped at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Folkestone, Kent, in May 2020.
The couple were travelling with their three children and said they were on their way to visit relatives in Brescia, Italy.
They initially declared to officers that they had £5,000 with them, which they claimed was to pay for dental treatment while in Italy.
However, a full search of their vehicle by Border Force led to the recovery of a further £14,000 from Laloshi’s handbag and more than £200,000 hidden in a rucksack and suitcase in the car boot.
NCA investigators carried out a search of the couple’s home, where they found numerous documents detailing dozens of large cash deposits into bank accounts belonging to the pair.
Further financial enquiries identified that Sharra and Laloshi had deposited more than £110,000 into their accounts in the preceding year, more than five times their legitimately declared income for the same period. There were also numerous unexplained transfers from overseas banks.
Sharra had purchased the Mercedes for £11,000 in cash just two months before.
The couple were charged with money laundering offences, which they both initially denied.
On Monday, April 3, mid-way through their trial at Canterbury Crown Court, they changed their pleas to guilty.
Sharra was given an 18-month suspended sentence and 200 hours of unpaid work, while Laloshi received a 12-month community order and 50 hours of unpaid work.
The cash will be forfeited as proceeds of crime.
NCA branch commander Mark Howes said: “This couple lied about the cash from the moment they were caught, initially telling officers it was for dental work in Italy, then claiming it was for a property purchase.
“Our investigation showed they were using their various bank accounts to make criminal cash appear legitimate.
“The NCA is determined to target criminal cash flows and prevent organised crime gangs benefiting from their illicit profits.”