A five-man Russian gang used a network of “cash mules” to launder money siphoned from bank accounts using sophisticated malware.

Police found evidence of £4.5million taken – with some of the money used to buy expensive jewellery which was smuggled to Russia. Only £190,000 has been recovered and police believe the final cost to victims is likely to be much higher.

The last two of the gang – ringleaders Aslan Abazov, 30, and Aslan Gergov, 29 – were both jailed at Southwark Crown Court on Monday (July 12) for seven years and six months on charges of conspiracy to defraud banks and contravening the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The other three gang members who were jailed included 33-year-old Kazbek Varitlov who lived in Wesley Avenue in the Royal Docks . He received seven and a half months for conspiracy to defraud. He was arrested at Heathrow airport and a raid on his Docklands home uncovered a cache of bank debit cards, none in his name.

Abazov Aslan

The five, all Russian nationals, had pleaded guilty to their offences and they were found to have similar operations running in Germany, Austria and Poland.

The court heard that on November 9, 2014, five business accounts held at a leading high street bank were compromised by cyber criminals who used malware to transfer £1million into “mule” accounts opened by employees of Gergov and Abazov.

The cash was laundered through 166 mule accounts before it was withdrawn at a number of places across London including Heathrow Airport.

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One of the gang members bought items of women’s jewellery at Cartier, a white gold bracelet for £3,400 and a white gold, diamond love necklace for £2,970 with the intent of smuggling them back to Russia to be re-sold.

The network was run via a system of hierarchy with the mules being at the bottom and Abazov and Gergov at the top – they liaised with the cyber criminals who had originally hacked the business accounts.

Det Insp Jason Tunn, of the Met’s Operation Falcon, said: “The losses sustained by the UK victims were significant, with evidence produced to the court showing that the gangs’ profits were being used to fund building projects in Russia in further efforts to launder their criminal proceeds.”