Businessman who “turned a blind eye to criminals” is facing jail

A ST JOHN’S Wood businessman is facing prison for operating a ‘no questions asked’ safe deposit service for criminals looking to hide their ill-gotten gains.

Milton Woolf, 55, of Oslo Court, St John’s Wood - formerly of Golders Green - turned a “blind eye” to criminals using their business to store illegally obtained guns, cash and identity documents, Southwark Crown Court heard today.

South African-born Woolf and his fellow director Jacqueline Swan, 47, of Hexham Road, Barnet, adopted a “three wise monkeys” approach to the illicit goods deposited by criminals at their safe depository business.

They even advised customers how to store goods in such a way that would not arouse suspicion and avoid detection, the court was told.

As a result criminals flocked to the three sites in Park Lane, Hampstead and Edgware operated by Safe Deposit Centres Limited to store money, firearms, jewellery, fake passports, driving licences and stolen marriage certificates.

In one instance a criminal stored a gun and balaclava used in a murder at the premises.

Michael Holland QC, prosecuting, said: “The directors we say, wanted to try to adopt the ‘three wise monkeys’ approach - hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, rather than be vigilant to report suspicious activity as they were obliged to do.”

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Woolf and Swan were arrested after police targeted the firm they ran, Safe Deposit Centres Ltd, in what is said to be the biggest raid in Scotland Yard’s history.

In a �10million investigation, code-named ‘Operation Rize‘, more than 500 officers simultaneously stormed the company’s high security safe depository vaults in Hampstead, Edgware and Park Lane on June 2, 2008.

In the two weeks that followed police cut open almost 7,000 deposit boxes, of which 3,500 were investigated.

The operation, aimed at cracking open the murky world of organised crime, has led to 146 arrest and 30 convictions - some of which were for paedophilia offences.

Woolf is set to be sentenced for 14 charges, including money-laundering and possession of a firearm, while Swan is being sentenced for seven counts of money-laundering.

A third director, Leslie Sieff, 63, of Ranulf Road, West Hampstead, has already been fined �1,000 for possessing counterfeit 60,000 US dollars last December.

The sentencing hearing continues.