A web of properties worth around £17million has been seized after an eight-year investigation into a drug trafficking gang.
Industrial premises, terraced houses and even a public gym were among the 59 addresses targeted by the National Crime Agency in an inquiry that began in 2011.
Linked to a group of heroin dealers operating in Birmingham, the properties were purchased with what investigators described as ‘dirty money’.
The vast majority of the properties were lets, with another 34 separate addresses in the Selly Oak area of Birmingham – popular with students studying at the nearby University of Birmingham.
The seizures also included two addresses housing multiple apartments.
In some cases, the gang seems to have set its sights on ‘buying up roads, almost’, an NCA official said, owning five or six houses in three different Birmingham streets in Selly Oak.
There were also three properties in the seaside town of Bangor, Northern Ireland.
None of the addresses were purchased in the names of the criminals, but were each proven beyond reasonable doubt before a High Court judge to be purchases linked to the proceeds of drug importation and supply, fraud and money laundering.
There is no evidence any of the owners of the seized properties themselves were involved in any criminal activity, the NCA said.
All the addresses seized have now been sold or are being sold, with the proceeds split between the Treasury and the NCA, where it is used to help the continuing fight against serious organised crime.
An NCA official said his team was focused on ‘taking action against the properties, not the people’ in a bid to stop criminality at its source.
Andy Lewis, the NCA’s head of asset denial, said: ‘What they don’t want to do is have a property portfolio in their own names so if they do get caught they stand to lose that immediately.
‘We started looking at what assets the wider family members had, and we found more and more assets.
‘Then we looked at whether what they had was commensurate with their actual income.
‘So if they had income of £20,000 per year, but owned five properties worth over £1 million in total, it starts the hares running.
‘Had we not taken all these properties away, the main people sentenced would have come out of prison and had £17million to invest.
‘Taking away the money stops them reinvesting in other criminality, or their retirement.
‘Instead, we used the criminals’ money to reinvest from a bad situation to a good one, deploying our resources against other criminals.’
The NCA said the gang had set its sights on ‘buying up roads, almost’ with two of the properties housing multiple apartments.
The NCA was first alerted to the gang’s dealings after a referral from the Police Service of Northern Ireland in December 2011.
The organisation carried out four connected civil recovery investigations into the properties.
In July 2014, a separate criminal investigation was sparked after Border Force officials intercepted a shipping container with 165kg of 58 per cent pure heroin.
The huge haul had an estimated street value of up to £19million.
After a court case, eight men including Ameran Zeb Khan and his fellow ringleaders, Mohammed Ali and Sajid Hussain, all from Birmingham, were jailed in July 2017 for a total of 139 years.
The gang had organised two shipments of drugs from Pakistan to London, hiding them among industrial equipment.
All of the seized addresses have now been sold or are being sold, with the proceeds split between the Treasury and the NCA.
Graeme Biggar, the National Economic Crime Centre’s director general, said: ‘We are determined to stop criminals profiting from their crime.
‘Where criminals have bought properties with illicit funds, in Birmingham, Bangor or anywhere in the UK, we will use all the powers at our disposal to identify them and to seize them.’