Seven members of an organised crime gang have been sentenced to a total of over 23 years in prison for laundering money linked to drug trafficking.

Qin Gao, 32, previously of Catford, was sentenced to two years and 11 months for his part in the money muling network.

An investigation was launched in 2017 when Santander identified a big increase in the amount of cash transferred between bank accounts at its Lewisham, Catford and London Bridge branches.

Staff became familiar with a man who often entered the three branches to transfer cash to accounts held by foreign nationals across the UK.

He was identified as Jie Zheng, 27, from Bromley-by-Bow, and he has now been sentenced to four years and six months in prison.

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An investigation, involving various authorities, led to Catford’s Qin Gao being spotted on CCTV visiting the branches to carry out transactions in excess of £470,000.

There were 460 accounts used to facilitate the transfers and many belonged to foreign students or former students who had returned home.

The money was paid into business accounts and then into online payment services and top-up credit cards overseas.

A total of £1.5 million of illicit funds was transferred.

Zheng’s home was being used as a safe house and large bags and suitcases containing cash were often dropped off.

In June of last year City of London Police executed search warrants at addresses of six of the gang members and seized £962,349 in cash.

Mobile phones and money counting machines were also seized.

Detective Chief Inspector Andrea Williams said: "The sheer scale of this highly organised network led to a complex investigation supported by Santander and a number of partner agencies.

"Thanks to the professionalism and diligence of City of London Police officers, we have been able to put a stop to their extensive crimes."

The other five men jailed were from either east London or Southwark.

All seven men were convicted of conspiracy to conceal, convert, disguise, transfer and remove criminal property.