BANKS in Sheffield were used to launder millions of fake US dollars by international fraudsters with links to the Russian mafia and the IRA.
South Yorkshire banks and bureaux de change became the unlikely focus for one of the biggest police and US secret service investigations of its kind.
Three members of the money-laundering gang face jail after being found guilty of conspiracy to import and distribute rogue $100 bills after a three-month trial at Worcester Crown Court.
Detectives and US secret service colleagues say the conviction has smashed the British wing of a sophisticated worldwide operation responsible for smuggling nearly $28m in fake US currency.
Mark Adderley, aged 44, and David Levin, 36, both from Worcestershire, and a 56-year-old gang member who cannot be named, all face jail.
National Crime Squad detectives launched Operation Mali in late 1998 after high-quality $100 bills almost indistinguishable from the real thing started to circulate in Sheffield, London and Birmingham.
Detectives working with the US secret service uncovered a network of couriers from all over Europe who were bringing fake US currency from dealers in Moscow into the UK via Ireland.
Contacts from the Official IRA acted as middlemen before the fake cash was laundered in small denominations through banks and exchanges at cities that included Sheffield.
In May, 2000, customs officers seized $250,000 worth of UK-bound fake currency at the Czech border.
A month later, detectives rounded up key gang members at a pub in Birmingham.
National Crime Squad Det Chief Insp Mark Smith said: “This operation was the biggest of its type ever mounted in Europe against what was a highly sophisticated money-laundering network involving top-tier criminals both here and abroad.”