Christie's tip leads to money launderer's conviction

LONDON • A tip from Christie's auction house led to the conviction of a London man described by the British authorities as a "go-to money launderer for fraudsters all around the world".

Kazeem Akinwale was found guilty of fraud and possessing criminal property after he tried to fool a client of the auction house, Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Monday in an e-mailed statement. The 43-year-old controlled bank accounts that processed more than £6 million (S$10.6 million) and took commissions of about £73,000, the agency said.

In March 2016, the authorities received a tip from Christie's that hackers had tried to imitate an employee's e-mail address to divert a customer's payment. The account was traced to Akinwale's east London home a month later, where he was arrested.

"Akinwale was a key player for organised criminals the world over," Mr Jamie Horncastle, an NCA officer, said in a press release. "Every serious and organised crime group relies on cash flow, so taking Akinwale out of action will disrupt very many criminal networks."

A laptop and two cellphones containing references to the laundering of fraudulent cash were seized from the home of Akinwale, who also used the alias Ola Gapiano, according to the NCA.

"Christie's does not tolerate the use of our business for illegal activity of any kind and we have in place robust anti-money laundering and anti-fraud measures," said Ms Emily Burke, a spokesman for the auction house.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2019, with the headline 'Christie's tip leads to money launderer's conviction'. Print Edition | Subscribe