A man has been jailed for almost 10 years for selling counterfeit erectile dysfunction and slimming pills and laundering more than £10m through bank accounts linked to a Jewish charity.
The Met police identified a number of websites offering erectile dysfunction medication and slimming aids, primarily for customers in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and France, during an investigation in 2013.
A group of companies based in Stamford Hill, north London, and linked to the Chabad UK charity, were receiving card payments for these products.
Edward Cohen, 67, was the administrator of Chabad UK charities and operated the financial accounts.
He was previously convicted of benefit fraud but fled the country before the new trial, the Jewish Chronicle reported.
On 21 June, Cohen was found guilty in his absence of two charges of money laundering, one charge of theft and one charge of supplying false information to the Charity Commission.
On Thursday, he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years for money laundering and theft offences, and two years and three months’ imprisonment for the benefit fraud. The sentences will run consecutively.
At an earlier hearing at Southwark crown court in April, Cohen was found guilty of fraud relating to housing benefits to the value of £233,000.
The Met analysed bank accounts linked to Chabad UK and found the number of transactions dramatically increased from March 2012.
From March 2012, 14 bank accounts which received payments from the merchant accounts were opened in the names of charities and companies associated with Chabad UK.
Between March 2012 and September 2014, nine companies of the Chabad UK group – seven of which were registered charities – processed more than £10.3m. The Met said a very small proportion of transactions were confirmed as legitimate charitable donations.
During this period, £8.6m was transferred to foreign exchange accounts, and £1,.7m was transferred to a number of money service bureaus. Thousands of pounds were also transferred to the Cohen’s personal accounts.
The issue was referred to police after a number of pharmaceutical companies had received complaints from customers receiving counterfeit medication. The Met said there was also an increase in the number of “chargebacks” – when the customer requests a refund often owing to goods being faulty or not received – on these merchant accounts.
DSJohn Nagle from the north-west command unit, who led the investigation, said: “Edward Cohen set up a pan-European operation selling dangerous counterfeit medication to thousands of unsuspecting people, pocketing millions of pounds in the process.
“In an effort to conceal the profits from Edward’s business venture and with full knowledge that what he was doing was illegal, the money was funnelled through bank accounts set up by a legitimate charity that he ran.
“Edward Cohen also transferred large sums from donations made to the charity in good faith into his own bank accounts, which paid for rent and other personal expenses.”
Chabad UK is an entirely separate charity from Chabad Lubavitch UK and not part of the official Chabad movement.