Patrick Foster, Times Online (London), December 21, 2005
A POSTMAN masterminded a £20 million theft ring stealing thousands of chequebooks to fund a high-flyer lifestyle, a court was told yesterday.
Dido Mayue-Belezika, 34, was said to have intercepted and stolen every chequebook he came across at a sorting office in a complex fraud involving more than 220 accomplices around the country.
The operation was run by Mayue-Belezika, an asylum-seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from his council home in Camden, North London. His chief lieutenant was his brother-in-law, Ishiaba Kasonga, 40, who farmed out the chequebooks to money launderers. £5 million alone was stolen from hundreds of residents in Golders Green, North London.
Mayue-Belezika’s operation went undetected for months. He was careful not to arouse suspicion at work by driving a secondhand Fiat Punto and wearing modest clothes.
He offically earned £250 a week and concealed his lifestyle of luxury cars, designer clothes and lavish foreign holidays. He even returned from one holiday with £15,000 in cash that he had been unable to spend.
Harrow Crown Court heard that Mayue-Belezika owned designer suits worth thousands of pounds, a Mercedes 4×4, and Rolex and Omega watches worth tens of thousands of pounds. His bank account always had £40,000 in it and he carried a wallet stuffed with £50 notes.
The end of his £20 million fraud began in June last year with what appeared to be a routine complaint. Within weeks hundreds of people in Golders Green were reporting £1,200 missing at a time from their accounts, withdrawn by cheques. Similar reports were received, all from the same area.
Operation Bangor, one of the largest investigations of its kind, had grown to embrace most of the country. Officers based at Barnet, North London, realised that those “cleaning up” the case had nothing to do with the Royal Mail.
The police eventually discovered that the gang had a small army of money-launderers on its payroll, which one officer said exceeded 220.
They used a vast array of genuine and bogus accounts and managed to stay “under the radar” by using only two cheques at a time from each book. With the help of the Post Office’s own investigators, Mayue-Belezika was eventually identified as the mastermind of the scam.
On April 26 500 officers, 400 in the capital alone, staged a series of raids across the country.
They were accompanied by a further 200 officials from the Immigration Service and the Department for Work and Pensions, who were investigating a linked but much smaller benefits swindle.
Investigators also found evidence of thousands more cheque books believed to have been intercepted from sorting offices. The court was told yesterday that other items of mail were also stolen.
A widower from Tyne and Wear, for example, lost an insurance payout sent to him by the Prudential in Stirling, Scotland, after his wife’s death. But the sheer size of the case prevented the police from concentrating on anything but the main Golders Green investigation.
Many of the 36 initially detained, Mayue-Belezika among them, were from London but others were arrested in Leeds, Manchester, Bedford, Luton and Bromley, southeast London. Nine others were later taken into custody.
Mayue-Belezika and Kasonga are not expected to be sentenced until Friday.
Mayue-Belezika, who is married and has four children, admitted 12 counts of theft between April last year and April this year relating to the chequebook thefts, although the police believe that the scam may have spanned up to three years. He also pleaded guilty to 13 offences of using stolen credit cards and asked for 60 similar charges to be considered. Kasonga, 40, admitted conspiring to conceal criminal property.
Of the 24 people eventually charged, only one was cleared by a jury. The rest variously admitted conspiring to defraud, concealing criminal property, forgery, using false instruments and handling stolen goods. All were citizens of Angola, Zaire, the Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Zambia, or were born there.
Their jail sentences ranged from six months to three years. Five received community punishment orders of up to 200 hours. Nine of the defendants were recommended for deportation.
A final gang member, a 21-year-old woman, remains to be dealt with in six weeks.
Detective Inspector Murray Duffin said: “This operation has smashed a multimillion-pound ring in which people based all over the country were engaged in large-scale cheque fraud. The breach of trust from the first link of the chain, Dido Mayue-Belezika, was staggering.”