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£25million payback from Rize Raid

PUBLISHED: 14:26 27 January 2011 | UPDATED: 12:17 31 January 2011

Milton Woolf, co-director of Safe Deposit Centres Ltd.

Milton Woolf, co-director of Safe Deposit Centres Ltd.

Archant

MORE than £25million seized in the biggest raid in Scotland Yard’s history will go back into the public purse, police have revealed.

The money is part of a £56million haul recovered by police when they stormed high-security safe deposit vaults in Finchley Road, Edgware and Mayfair in 2008.

Codenamed Operation Rize, the unprecedented £1million investigation uncovered an astonishing bounty of contraband and illegal cash.

In a search of almost 7,000 deposit boxes police found evidence of gun crime, child pornography, human trafficking, multi-million pound tax evasion, drug dealing and ivory trading.

Last week, Milton Woolf, the Golders Green director of the safe depositories, admitted a string of charges, ranging from failing to report money laundering to stealing thousands of pounds from the deposit boxes. His two co-directors, Jacqueline Swan, from Barnet, and Leslie Sieff, from Fortune Green, previously pleaded guilty to other charges.

The Met Police this week revealed that £13million of the huge sums they confiscated has been claimed by the state. This figure is likely to rise with funds topping £12million still going through the courts, they said.

Detective Superintendent Mark Ponting, from the Met’s Economic and Specialist Crime Command, said: “Already around £13million has been returned to public coffers, with many more investigations outstanding.

“More than £12 million remains held within the courts and around 900 investigations have been referred to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. These cases are likely, in their own right, to recover further millions of pounds back into the public purse.”

Operation Rize was launched in late 2006 when the Met’s Specialist Crime Directorate suspected that Safe Deposit Centres Limited (SDC), the largest provider of safe deposit facilities in the UK was corrupt. It was decided to raid the company after intelligence indicated that the depositories were operating an anonymous, no questions asked, service to criminals storing their ill-gotten gains.

At 3.30pm on June 2, 2008, more than 500 officers accompanied by armoured vehicles raided eight north London addresses. These included the three safe depositories owned by SDC and the homes of its directors .

Last Thursday, Woolf, 54, formerly of West Heath Drive, pleaded guilty to 14 offences at Southwark Crown Court including: failing to disclose money laundering, possessing a firearm without a certificate, theft, holding false passports and having $60,000 in counterfeit currency.

Swan, 45, of Hexham Road, previously admitted seven counts of allowing criminals to use the depository for money laundering.

While former director, Sieff, 63, of Ranulf Road, admitted having $60,000 in counterfeit currency.

Neighbours have jumped to the defence of Sieff and Woolf, but the Met has welcomed their convictions, with Det Supt Ponting commenting: “There are two clear messages. First, that the Met is, and remains, determined to tackle serious and organised crime at all levels and that includes those who act more subtly in the background but who are often the key facilitators.

“Second, that the Proceeds of Crime Act is very powerful. It’s there to ensure that crime does not pay and that there should be no place for criminals to hide their ill-gotten gains.”

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