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Gloucestershire Business News

Major crime lord in the dock following Gloucestershire raid

A mystery criminal mastermind who provided hundreds of UK properties for organised crime gangs for use for prostitution or cannabis farms was unmasked following a Forest of Dean raid.

The Chinese national used multiple fake identifies to build the illicit portfolio of properties and remained unidentified - until a raid by police on a house in Newent.

A Tweet from Gloucestershire Constabulary's Serious and Organised Crime Operations Team tweeted at the time - 10 months ago - that officers had seized 170 cannabis plants in the raid, as well as arrested an illegal Vietnamese immigrant.

Crucially they were to also discover a rare mistake by the until then unidentified 43-year-old Feng Xu (pictured right). He had used his own bank account to pay the rent on the Gloucestershire home.

It was a discovery which allowed the police to finally put a name to the shady figure who until then had remained out of reach.

When National Crime Agency officers raided 43-year old Xu's flat in Holliday Street, Birmingham, and a secure storage unit he also used the scale of his operations began to become clear. They found a stash of 31 different false or fraudulent Chinese or Portuguese passports, along with numerous ID documents and £94,000 cash.

NCA investigators also found a computer database held by Xu, listing 446 different addresses he had been involved in renting out. He had used a variety of fake identities and aliases supported by false documents such as pay slips, utility bills and bank statements, all made himself.

Once leases were signed the properties would be handed over to criminal groups who would then set them up as brothels, cannabis farms or to house illegal immigrants.

Xu operated this network for at least three and a half years until his arrest. Over the course of that time more than £4 million in rent was paid out, some from his own accounts, some paid direct by the crime groups.

During that time police forces across the country raided numerous properties leased by Xu. When it started to become clear there was a connection between them the investigation was taken on by the NCA.

Over a seven-month period NCA officers began to map the properties and identities used, identifying further locations, including two properties which were found to be housing large-scale cannabis farms - including the house at Newent and one near Ludlow in Shropshire. Both of which were raided by police.

DCI Neil Smith, from Gloucestershire Constabulary, who headed up the team that raided the Newent house, said money made from cannabis farms was used in modern slavery, purchase of firearms, child sexual exploitation and prostitution.

Using financial information and online clues NCA investigators were able to identify Xu as a Chinese national who entered the UK in 1996 as a student, but had been living illegally here since 2000.

He was arrested at his home in May 2019 by NCA investigators.

National Crime Agency branch commander Martin Grace said: "We believe that this case goes way beyond one man.

"In taking Xu out we will have caused significant disruption to a number of different organised crime groups involved in prostitution, people smuggling and drug production.

"While he wasn't necessarily involved in those types of offences himself, he was an important enabler for those who were. Put simply, these crime groups could not do what they do without his services."

At a hearing at Birmingham Crown Court in October, Xu pleaded guilty to 22 different offences, including fraud and money laundering. Three other charges were left on file.

The same court has now sentenced him to seven years and four months in prison. He will face deportation after serving his sentence.

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