An Irish-based Chinese organised crime group has laundered millions of euro of drug trafficking proceeds on behalf of Irish criminals, the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) has alleged in the High Court.
The Cab said members of the Chinese group for a fee provided a route for Irish-based criminals to access their criminal proceeds overseas.
The bureau claims the leader of the Chinese gang, Mr Peng Fei He, has been seen meeting Ciaran O’Sullivan who, the Cab alleges, has been convicted of drug offences in Spain and has historical links to Christy Kinahan snr.
Mr Justice Alexander Owens was satisfied the bureau made out a case that a money-laundering operation involved people who moved to Ireland years ago from China.
He made orders on Wednesday deeming as crime proceeds various sums of cash, luxury goods and vehicles linked to a married couple before him – nursing home worker Xiaoxia Zheng and sushi restaurant courier Jianfei Zheng – and another Chinese national – Xie Xing Xue, who has an address in Bray – who did not appear in court or enter a defence.
A fourth person – Mr Xue’s partner, Feng Yun Chen – consented to orders disposing of €43,000, an Audi A6 and a Louis Vuitton wallet in settlement of the Cab’s case against her.
The court heard the four are among 13 individuals alleged to be part of the Chinese criminal gang allegedly headed by Mr He, who has served time in prison for drug offences.
The bureau’s case against the nine other alleged members, including Mr He, has yet to be heard.
The Cab’s barrister, Shelley Horan, told the court that individuals purchased high-value goods in Brown Thomas and other Irish stores to export them as a way of laundering money derived from crime.
Gardaí seized hundreds of thousands of euros in cash during searches at various locations in June 2020 following a surveillance operation, she said. There was also evidence of vast sums passing through various bank accounts linked to members of the Chinese group, she said.
Ruling in the Cab’s application for orders in respect of Mr and Ms Zheng and Mr Xue, Mr Justice Owens said it was “quite clear” they lent themselves to handling “very very large” sums of money that cannot be explained by their modest incomes.
The explanation for the “colossal” sums is “fairly obvious”, and is answered in the confidential information obtained by investigating gardaí that led to seizures of cash and luxury items, the judge said.
The evidence was “coercive”, he said, in demonstrating that Ms Chen was involved in opening a unit at Remedy Self Storage in Bray in which €117,000 cash accumulated in a short period.
He was also persuaded that Ms Zheng and Mr Xue were involved in opening a deposit box at Merrion Vaults in Ballsbridge that amassed €235,000 cash in 2019 to June 2020.
Some €144,000 and £20,000 cash seized in a June 2020 search of Mr and Ms Zheng’s address at The Grove, Millbrook Lawns, Tallaght, could not relate to any activity other than crime proceeds or criminal activity, the judge found.
The individuals “simply did not have any identifiable assets” that could cause them to obtain the working capital to engage in the overseas selling of luxury goods to the point of it producing the “enormous sums” in their bank accounts, he said.
“Various explanations” given to gardaí about the source of the money “do not add up”, the judge said.
Mr Justice Owens said he listened carefully to Ms Zheng’s explanation to the court but she was in difficulty as she did not swear an affidavit in defence of the claim against her.
Ms Zheng earlier said some of the money was given to her to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) to be used in China during the pandemic. Other sums were in her account because people asked her to keep it there, she said, adding: “I did it. I was so stupid ... I didn’t know I would be helping something like this.”
Other money found in her house was payback for money she lent Mr He’s wife and children while he was in prison, she said.
Her husband, she said, did not know anything about any of this and “just goes to work and comes back home”.
The Cab told the court the assets associated with Mr Zheng were a Nissan Qashqai and €8,400 in an AIB account that previously contained much larger sums.
The judge said Ms Zheng’s reference to PPE was “entirely new” and “completely inconsistent” with other explanations provided.
He accepted the “well-founded” belief evidence of the Cab’s chief bureau officer in relation to each of the assets linked to the three individuals.
Although the bureau did not disclose the confidential source of the original tip-off information, the “proof of the pudding is in the eating”, the judge said, and much circumstantial evidence emerged as “silent witnesses” in the case.
He deemed the various sums of cash and money in bank accounts to be, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, proceeds of crime. Many designer items, including handbags and wallets and three vehicles, were also, on the balance of probabilities, crime proceeds, he said.