A Chinese crime gang used a company director, her chef husband and other “unfortunates” in laundering “colossal” sums of money in Ireland for other crime gangs via bank accounts, a rented lock-up in Bray, a safety deposit box and many luxury goods, including Louis Vuitton handbags.
That is the conclusion of a High Court judge this week on an application by the Criminal Assets Bureau.
Cab’s case is that Peng Fei He, now believed to be in China, was the “mastermind” of a gang that laundered millions of euro over several years for a drug gang that, Cab believe, was led by Ciaran O’Sullivan who, it claimed, had historical connections with gangster Christy Kinahan snr.
Peng Fei He, who was jailed here in 2016 for six years for drug offences, had been pictured with O’Sullivan, with an address at Adelaide Road, Glenageary, Co Dublin.
The Chinese gang, Cab claimed, was paid a fee to use various money-laundering methods to ensure money was available to criminals outside Ireland.
Cab’s case, Mr Justice Alexander Owens observed, was that criminal money was used to buy items in Brown Thomas, then exported to China, “and heaven knows where the payment from China goes to”
During an investigation into O’Sullivan, who has a conviction for drug-related offences, Cab got confidential information that sparked several searches in June 2020, including of a safety deposit box in Milltown Vaults, Dublin, a rented lock-up in Bray, Co Wicklow, and the home in Tallaght of Xiaoxia Zheng, a company director, and her husband, Jianfei Zheng, joint owner of a takeaway restaurant where he works as chef.
The searches were productive, according to Cab affidavits read by barrister Shelley Horan.
There was €235,000 in the safety deposit box, €117,950 in a cardboard box in the lock-up, other sums in several bank accounts and a range of high-end goods, including Prada, Gucci, Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton products.
Some €144,540 and £20,000 in cash was seized at the Zheng’s rented home at The Grove, Millbrook Lawns, Tallaght, along with two cars and nine Louis Vuitton handbags, backpacks and a scarf. The cash was bundled in a similar way to that found in the safety deposit box and the lock-up.
Most of the luxury goods appeared to have been bought in Brown Thomas and some via the internet. Cab’s case, Mr Justice Alexander Owens observed, was that criminal money was used to buy items in Brown Thomas, then exported to China, “and heaven knows where the payment from China goes to”.
Cab has brought proceedings against 13 people over 50 assets with a total value of about €1 million, including €715,000 in cash other cash sums in different currencies, some €94,000 in bank accounts, five cars and 28 luxury goods valued at about €22,000.
Due to issues including service of legal documents, Cab could only proceed this week against three of the 13. Because he is believed to be in China, they did not include Peng Fei He, who had an address at Annaghcourt, Waterville, Blanchardstown, Dublin. The case against him and various others was returned to July.
An agreement was reached between the bureau and Feng Yun Chen, a nursing home worker with an address at Purcell Square, Bray, Co Wicklow. Under that, she admitted control of three assets, an Audi A6 car, €43,247 in a bank account and a Louis Vuitton flore chain wallet and consented to orders effectively meaning Cab retains them for the benefit of the State.
The judge granted orders against Xie Xing Xue, also with an address at Purcell Square, Bray, in June 2020, for seizure of the safety deposit box money, a Honda Civic car and some €13,000 cash and 8,764 in Chinese renminbi.
The Zhengs appeared in court unrepresented and without having put in affidavits opposing Cab’s application. When Zheng said a lawyer looked for €30,000 to appear for them, the judge said, given the sums “swirling” around her accounts, he was “not surprised”.
Zheng said the Louis Vuitton goods seized in their home did not belong to her, the money in the safety deposit box was from He, she did not know where it originated from and she had “stupidly” taken it to buy PPE clothing. She funded He’s wife and children while he was jailed and he had paid her back, she said.
Cab claimed the safety deposit box was opened in November 2019 by Zheng and Xue, and was separately visited by Zheng and her husband nine and eight times respectively.
Zheng initially denied knowledge of the box before giving contradictory explanations to gardaí, including that it related to the sale of baby food. He appeared genuinely shocked when told how much it contained, Cab said.
Zheng, a director of four companies, of which only one remains, told the judge her husband “just goes to work and comes back home. He has nothing to do with this.”
Her legitimate “modest” income from 2004 on would not explain the access to valuable assets and cash she has, the judge found.
He was told Cab believed, supported by analysis of her bank accounts and cash, she had become heavily involved in the operations of the crime gang. More than €1.297 million was lodged in various sums to an account from 2004 until it was restrained in 2020, when the balance was €27,000. Between January 2019 and June 2020, €38,000 was spent in Brown Thomas.
This operation, the judge observed, involved some “unfortunates” in society who came here from China some years ago and are “not especially successful”
The explanations from Zheng for the provenance of the cash and goods are “frankly unbelievable”. The judge has made orders meaning Cab can retain and deal, for the benefit of the State, with the €235,000 in Merrion Vaults; the €144,540, £20,000, BMW 520 and nine Louis Vuitton products seized from her home; and €27,626 in her AIB account.
Cab said her husband had a net income after tax of €158,357 from 2004 to 2020 and it claimed he was facilitating his wife via an AIB account that was opened in 2007 and had €314,765 credit lodgements to it and a balance of €8,470 when restrained. The orders granted against him were for seizure of that sum and a Nissan Qashqai.
This operation, the judge observed, involved some “unfortunates” in society who came here from China some years ago and are “not especially successful”.
The “colossal” sums going through their accounts, the “jiggery pokery” around the Bray unit and the trips to the safety deposit box contributed to his conclusion the assets at issue, on the balance of probabilities, were proceeds of crime resulting from a money-laundering scheme.