Surrey woman who smuggled 18 suitcases of £6.8 million of dirty cash from Heathrow to Dubai avoids jail

A woman from Surrey who smuggled 18 suitcases full of £6.8 million in dirty cash on a flight to Dubai has avoided jail.

CCTV footage from Heathrow airport shows Samantha Horst, 51, from Staines-upon-Thames, who smuggled an estimated £1.3m inside three cases ahead of the trip in September 2020.

She was part of an international money laundering network that transported more than £100 million in illicit cash from the UK to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during 83 separate trips between November 2019 and October 2020.

She and other members of the 17-strong gang were paid up to £5,000 for each trip they took to the Gulf state. Bramall has since been handed a suspended prison sentence following a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation.

Samantha Horst
Samantha Horst -Credit:NCA

The massive money laundering operation was overseen by ringleader Abdullah Alfalasi, a 48-year-old Emirati national, who was jailed for more than nine years in July 2022. The couriers, who communicated on WhatsApp groups including one titled ’Sunshine and lollipops’, were booked on business class flights due to the extra luggage allowance.

Horst was handed a 24-month prison sentence suspended for two years at Isleworth Crown Court on February 22. She was sentenced alongside Paige Henry, 26, from Birmingham, Craig Bramall, 42, Bridget Taylor, 44, from Edinburgh.

Two other members of the group, Ali Al-Nawab, 40, and Mehdi Amrollahbibiyouki, 41, both from London, were sentenced today.

Adrian Searle, Director of the National Economic Crime Centre in the NCA, said: “Money laundering fuels the global drugs trade, human trafficking, fraud, ransomware and many other crimes that cause misery and ruin lives. Today is an important step in removing one transnational criminal gang responsible for laundering at least £100 million.

“Gangs such as this smuggle cash on behalf of international controller networks – apex criminals who deploy sophisticated techniques to move and conceal the proceeds of crime in eye watering volumes and, sometimes, at the click of a button. The world’s most dangerous organised criminals and corrupt elites cannot operate effectively without them.

“With 17 people sentenced, this case highlights the scale and level of organisation money launderers will deploy to commit their crimes. The NCA is committed to targeting these gangs and working with our partners across the globe to reduce the threat from all forms of illicit finance.”

Horst, who was arrested following NCA raids in May 2021, made three trips to Dubai between August and September 2020, checking in 18 suitcases containing £6.8 million. Taylor made the journey with a co-traveller in September 2020, taking five suitcases containing £2 million. She also transported £1.3 million in three suitcases in July of that year.

Henry made four trips to Dubai in August and September 2020, one alone and three with other couriers, carrying a total of 24 suitcases containing £9.05 million.

Amrollahbibiyouki, who was arrested at his home address in April 2022, made three trips to Dubai in February and March 2020, checking in 12 suitcases containing £4.3 million. Evidence on his phones revealed that he had also been responsible for counting and packaging criminal cash totalling £11.1 million for eight trips made by other couriers, including the ones he made himself.

Al-Nawab was arrested in May 2022 as he was leaving the UK to travel to Turkey. He made two journeys in March 2020, checking in nine suitcases containing £3.2 million.

The network collected cash from criminal groups around the UK, which was mainly the profits of drug dealing, and took it to counting houses that were rented apartments in central London.

The money was then vacuum packed and separated into suitcases, which would typically each contain around £500,000. They were sprayed with coffee or air fresheners in an effort to prevent them being found by sniffer dogs.

NCA senior investigating officer Ian Truby said: “This was cash smuggling on a breath-taking scale. Although many of the couriers regarded these trips as paid for adventures in the sun, the stark reality is that this cash was generated from real-world harm.

“Profits are often re-invested into criminal activities such as drug trafficking, which fuels violence and insecurity in the UK and across the world. This case, one of the largest of its kind ever investigated by the NCA, demonstrates our commitment to targeting the criminal networks involved in international money laundering.”

Horst was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment suspended for two years, Taylor to 21 months imprisonment suspended for two years. Henry was sentenced to two years imprisonment suspended for two years on 15 March.

Al-Nawab was sentenced to two years, suspended for two years. Amrollahbibiyouki was jailed for four years.