Dozens of Barclays bank accounts belonging mainly to Chinese students at UK universities have been frozen over fears that they are being used by criminals to launder millions of pounds.
UK law enforcement bodies appealed to courts around the country in a coordinated operation to freeze 95 accounts containing an estimated £3.6m of suspicious funds.
Concerns were raised when it was discovered that payments were being made multiple times in or around one town or city, which was usually hundreds of miles away from where the account holding student was studying.
In some cases, money was ‘cleaned’ by being used to buy luxury goods that were then sent back to China. Most of the transactions were kept small enough so as not to alert the bank’s anti-money-laundering system.
None of the account holders, who are mostly Chinese nationals studying in the UK, are being accused of any crime, and the UK authorities believe that in many cases the students involved may ‘not have full knowledge of the scale and seriousness of the alleged criminal activity’ according to the National Crime Agency.
Barclays, which the NCA said had co-operated fully with the investigation from the outset, declined to comment any further. Neither identity of the parties behind the money laundering nor the sources of the suspicious funds are clear. Accounts will remain frozen until the source of the funds can be definitely established.