A woman who has been ordered to hand over more than £80,000 in a National Crime Agency investigation claimed £25,000 of it was found under her grandmother’s bed.

Chinese national Yuting Zhang, 36, claimed the £25,000 – paid into her bank account in old £50 notes – had actually come to her legitimately from under her grandmother’s bed in China.

She could not explain how the money got there originally.

Zhang, of Charminster Road, Bournemouth, had a total of £80,000 in two bank accounts which the NCA believed was laundered money.

Agency investigators became aware of potential frauds linked to her bank accounts in 2018 and used two Account Freezing Orders to restrain the funds while they were investigated.

The accounts showed multiple deposits were made to them in branches across the UK.

One account showed frequent cash deposits where the source of the payments could not be identified or traced. The locations were also at odds with where Zhang lived.

In another instance, NCA officers traced one payment at a self-service machine back to a card registered at an address where a convicted money launderer had lived

Zhang claimed some of the deposits were from family and friends in China who were planning trips the UK.

She said she helped plan their itineraries and would buy things they might need.

Despite her claims, she couldn’t produce any evidence showing the audit trail of the funds.

The NCA successfully argued that the pattern and nature of the deposits, were more than likely to be from the proceeds of crime. 

Some of the payments came from China and would have broken regulations on how much money is allowed to leave the country.

On 1 September 2020, after a two-day hearing, a judge at Westminster Magistrates Court ruled in the NCA’s favour and issued a Notice of Forfeiture on the two accounts. 

One account held just over £78,000, while the other held just under £2,000. Those amounts have now been surrendered to the NCA, with any interest and costs incurred. 

Zhang fought the orders, and said she intended to use the bulk of the money to invest in high quality student accommodation in Liverpool.

She had 30 days to appeal the Court’s decision, which has now expired.

Matt Bradford, Head of Operations for the National Economic Crime Centre at the NCA said: “This investigation showed classic examples of money laundering, where we can only surmise that the accounts were being used as vehicles to clean dirty cash, and then make more money on it. 

“Money laundering is a key enabler of serious and organised crime, with the people involved in it readily taking advantage of both other people and legitimate resources.

“We remain focused in our work to combat illicit finances, which ultimately help fund further crimes.” 

27 October 2020