Hunt for queen of 'drugs mules of Instagram' recruiter in £104m ring
26/04/2023

A glamorous married mother-of-two today became one of Britain's most wanted suspects - after her alleged recruits were convicted over a £104million smuggling ring.

Michelle Clarke, 42, is still being hunted by the National Crime Agency over the huge sums of dirty money being flown from Heathrow to the Middle East.

She is understood to be currently on the run from justice in Dubai, where the plot's money hub was based. 

Former Sky TV digital co-ordinator Ms Clarke, from Leeds, was painted as a kingpin-style figure in the case that saw Joe Calzaghe's glamour model ex-girlfriend along with a Kim Kardashian lookalike jailed or facing jail. 

She is also said to have recruited Beatrice Auty, 26, of Fulham, and the others for the £104million plot.

Ms Clarke also ran the 'Sunshine and Lollipops' WhatsApp group, allegedly set up to organise the couriers arriving in Dubai.

Michelle Clarke, 42, is still on the run and hunted by the National Crime Agency over the plot

Ms Clarke also ran the 'Sunshine and Lollipops' WhatsApp group, which allegedly organised the couriers

Jo-Emma Larvin, 44, Jonathan Johnson, 55, and Beatrice Auty, 26, were all found guilty

Emirati national Abdulla Alfalasi (left), 47, ringleader of a gang that smuggled more than £100million in dirty cash out of the UK to Dubai was jailed for more than nine years. Hanlon (right) had been previously later jailed for two years and 10 months

In court it was heard she ordered couriers to use only pay-as-you-go sims on their mobiles.

Clarke was said to have insisted: 'Only use these phones for now on and delete everything from your personal phones.'

Earlier in the case Julian Christopher, prosecuting, said couriers were recruited 'directly and through Michelle Clarke'.

Referring to her, he said: 'A British national in Dubai became involved in recruiting couriers. She does not appear in the dock because she is outside the jurisdiction.'

Today Calzaghe's glamour model ex-girlfriend Jo-Emma Larvin, 44, and others were facing jail for their part in the globe-spanning plot.

Larvin, 44, made the first trip with Amy Harrison, 27, when they took £2.2million into Dubai in seven suitcases.

Her partner Jonathan Johnson, 55, travelled with her on the second time.

The couple carried £2.8million in September 2020, using ordinary holiday items to disguise the cash stashed in eight suitcases.

Larvin denied any wrongdoing and claimed she believed she was flying out millions of pounds for the UAE Embassy.

The model said when she and her partner took the job it was the 'worst decision' of their lives.

The pair divide their time between a home in Ripon, North Yorkshire and luxury hotels in Dubai, while on her Instagram profile Larvin has posted pictures of glamorous holidays they have enjoyed in the Maldives and Tanzania.

Larvin dated Welsh boxer Joe Calzaghe for six years - here they are pictured together at the 2006 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards

The 44-year-old and her partner Jonathan Johnson (pictured together outside court) were charged with three other people with transferring criminal property

She runs a lifestyle firm called Larvin Life and describes her interests as 'wildlife, safari and interiors' – just a day after being bailed she posted a picture on her Facebook page of herself on a beach in Scotland.

The caption read: 'Love love love the Scottish Highlands. So ruggedly wild and beautiful, like another world. UK road tripping.'

Larvin turned to photography after her six-year relationship with Welsh boxing legend Calzaghe ended in 2009 shortly before he began seeing his Russian Strictly dance partner Kristina Rihanoff.

In an interview a year after they split up Larvin revealed how the boxer – dubbed the Pride of Wales – got jealous of other men and how he put an end to her catwalk career.

She revealed: 'Joe didn't like me doing a lot of the modelling stuff – anything that involved another man. I remember one audition for a coffee advert, which would have me involved me shooting with a male model and he was adamant I shouldn't do it.

'It was classic male jealousy, which I can understand. But he's possessive and controlling, which he would admit himself. And he really didn't like me talking to other men.'

During their relationship Calzaghe was awarded an OBE in 2003, which was upgraded to an MBE in 2008 and the year before he won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Two of those couriers are already in prison - including Tara Hanlon, 31, (pictured) who was jailed for nearly three years in July after being caught taking around £2million from the UK to Dubai 

Undated handout photo issued by National Crime Agency of some of the money found in the possession of Hanlon when she was stopped at Heathrow Airport

In June 2009, Calzaghe was partnered with Kristina and he called Larvin to suggest they called it a day.

She said: 'He said it wasn't going to work and that we should just leave it. That was it. It was a short call.'

Days later she saw pictures of the couple kissing after rehearsals – which she described as 'awful' adding how it had 'really hurt'.

When contacted by MailOnline about the court case Larvin said: 'I don't really want to talk about it, thanks.'

Larvin's six-year relationship with former Welsh boxing legend Calzaghe ended in 2009.

Videos of the enormous sums of money being bagged up were produced as part of evidence

The cash was piled up into bricks and then put into plastic bags for safety in transit

Nicola Esson, 55, from Leeds, checked in 19 suitcases on three visits in August and September 2020, declaring a total of £6.4m

Jo-Emma Larvin (pictured) acted as a 'courier' for a smuggling gang by taking a suitcase full of money to Dubai

Larvin and Johnson, both of Ripon, North Yorks, along with Harrison, of Worcester Park, Surrey, Beatrice Auty, 26, of Fulham, all denied but were unanimously convicted of removing criminal property from the UK.

Judge Sarah Paneth granted the defendants bail ahead of sentence on a date to be fixed and said: 'I do not see any of you as a flight risk, otherwise I would not be granting you bail.'

Liam Rabone, 29, of West Kensington, was cleared of removing criminal property after he told jurors: 'I would never have gone to two international airports knowing it was part of a crime syndicate.'

The cash smugglers flew business class so they could take more luggage with them.

They declared cash once arriving in Dubai, handing over a letter authorising them to carry it from a company called Omnivest.

Larvin turned to photography after her six-year relationship with Welsh boxing legend Joe Calzaghe ended in 2009 shortly before he began seeing his Russian Strictly dance partner Kristina Rihanoff (pictured together in 2012)

Julian Christopher, KC, prosecuting, told jurors the defendants 'played a significant part in the transportation of very large amounts of cash' to Dubai from Heathrow.

Millions of pounds in English and Scottish banknotes were carried in suitcases checked in as luggage, the court heard.

Anything over 10,000 Euros leaving the EU has to be declared to HMRC, but the smugglers' suitcases usually contained up to £500,000.

The couriers were paid £3,000 and all their expenses for their trips to Dubai befre flying back with 'their very considerably lighter' suitcases.

During her first trip Larvin sent messages to Johnson, saying she was 'in at the deep end'.

Recruitment consultant Tara Hanlon, 32, described as a Kim Kardashian lookalike, was locked up for nearly three years in 2022 for money laundering offences 

Johnson is said to have told her: 'You need to be super careful,' and: 'I like your enterprise but the threat of clink [sic].'

Mr Christopher said: 'That's the threat of prison - he's worried about the illegal nature of this.'

Johnson also messaged Larvin two days before his first trip to Dubai, and said taking eight suitcases with them was 'taking the p**s'.

NCA investigators found couriers carried £104m out of the country on 83 Emirates flights from London Heathrow to Dubai.

Kingpin Abdulla Alfalasi, 48, from Dubai, was jailed for more than nine years last July.

Recruitment consultant Tara Hanlon, 32, described as a Kim Kardashian lookalike, was locked up for nearly three years in 2022 for money laundering offences.

Auty was allegedly recruited as a courier by Michelle Clarke, 42, in July 2020.

Hanlon arrives at Isleworth Crown Court, west London, where she was jailed for two years and 10 months after pleading guilty to more than £5million worth of money laundering offences

Abdullah Mohammed Ali Bin Beyat Alfalasi, 46, was the kingpin behind the moving of more than £100million in crooked cash from the UK to the UAE. Pictured: Some of the money found by authorities which was destined for Dubai

Hanlon was told to 'reassure' Auty, who was then added by Clarke to the 'Sunshine and Lollipops' WhatsApp group, set up to organise the couriers arriving in Dubai.

Money laundering expert and technical adviser from HM Treasury, Lesley Hayton said coffee and air freshener had been secreted in the suitcases to put sniffer dogs off the scent of cash.

She said anything over £13,000 has to be declared on arrival in the Dubai.

Ms Hayton added: 'There is a belief that when moving large sums of cash...there is a belief that coffee will put a sniffer dog away from finding the cash.'

She added: 'I believe they were travelling with Emirates Airlines, business class has the luxury of a later check in, so that makes the chances of getting caught that much smaller than if you were waiting in an airport for two to three hours.

'There is also a higher baggage allowance on business class.'

Hanlon (pictured left and right), 30, was arrested at Heathrow Airport on October 3 when Border Force officials found £1.9million stuffed into five suitcases

Hanlon is the 'party-loving' Kim Kardashian wannabe arrested at Heathrow

Johnson is said to have told Larvin that their contacts were 'taking the p***', adding: 'How the f*** do two people carry eight cases it's f****** ridiculous, talk about conspicuous.'

The couple were arrested in March last year.

Auty told the court she was put in contact with Clarke by her ex-partner and told she would be working for the UAE royal family.

She said she met a driver called Karim at a Starbucks in Knightsbridge who took her to a town house and gave her suitcases to take to Dubai and told her: 'Have a lovely trip.'

Auty said she did not believe she was doing anything illegal.

Larvin and Johnson, both of Ripon, North Yorks, along with Harrison, of Worcester Park, Surrey, and Auty, of Fulham, all denied but were convicted of removing criminal property from the UK.

Alfalasi, from Dubai, was arrested in December 2021 at an apartment in Lowndes Square, Belgravia, where three-bed properties sell for more than £11million.

Tara Hanlon, 30, from Yorkshire was  caught in Heathrow, trying to board on a flight to Dubai

He admitted removing criminal cash from the UK between April 3, 2019 and November 3, 2020.

Earlier H.E. Hamid Al Zaabi, Director-General of the UAE's Executive Office of Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism, said: 'This case is a practical example of how the UAE and UK are working closely to increase cooperation and coordination on illicit financial flows as intelligence sharing and joint operation capabilities are enhanced.

'We will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the UK in the global fight against illicit finance.'

Janes Solicitors, who represented Rabone, said: 'Liam Rabone is delighted with his acquittal today after an eight-week trial at Isleworth Crown Court.

'Throughout the police investigation and the court proceedings Mr Rabone has maintained his innocence and he is enormously grateful that the jury has reached its decision after four days of deliberation, despite reaching guilty verdicts in respect of the other four co-defendants of money-laundering offences.'

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