Wilsons Detectives Blog
Modern Slavery Worldwide
A married couple have wept in court as they faced money laundering charges linked to an international drug smuggling plot worth an estimated £15m.
Yifan Zhao, a university lecturer living in England, and his wife, Guo Huimin, both appeared at Newtownards Magistrates Court, County Down.
Police alleged the pair laundered more than £750,000 for a gang who smuggled "skunk" cannabis into Northern Ireland.
The couple, from Longleat Court, Milton Keynes, were remanded in custody.
'National Crime Agency'The 35-year-old lecturer and his 34-year-old wife cried uncontrollably throughout the 20 minute hearing in Newtownards.
Advertisement They are jointly charged with four offences including possessing criminal property, converting criminal property - namely cash - entering a criminal arrangement to acquire criminal property and cheating the public revenue.
The offences are all alleged to have taken place between 18 April 2013 and 25 March this year.
A detective constable told the court that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have been working in conjunction the National Crime Agency (NCA) in an operation that began last February.
The joint operation has resulted in multiple arrests and searches in Northern Ireland and Italy, and the seizure of various items, including financial documents.
'Lawful business'The office said police had seized documents that indicated a total of £760,000 had been put through the couples' bank account, with many lodgements coming from across the UK.
The lecturer claimed their money had come from his university salary and from lawful business ventures including the buying and selling of cosmetic products.
A defence solicitor said his clients could be safely released if their bank accounts and assets were frozen and their passports surrendered, claiming they had made "proper tax returns".
However, the detective constable said police disputed the accused's claims that they had obtained the money lawfully and alleged they were "benefitting from this smuggling operation".
He said police were "strongly opposed to bail" as there was a serious risk the couple would flee the UK.
To date, nine other people who were accused of involvement in the international drug plot have been charged with a range of offences including conspiracy to smuggle class B cannabis and money laundering.
The smuggling charges arose after PSNI officers recovered £800,000 of strong cannabis, known as skunk, along with cash during searches in Belfast, Greenisland, Bangor, Newtownards and Ballywalter.
Eight other suspects have also been questioned in Italy following raids on three cannabis factories in the Prato and Bologna areas.