Two well-known members of the London Jewish community have been arrested in connection with the Metropolitan Police’s first large-scale investigation into the use of safety deposit boxes by criminals.
The JC understands that Leslie Sieff, 60, and Milton Woolf, 52, were arrested after more than 300 officers simultaneously raided Safe Deposit Centres Ltd’s three depots in Hampstead, Edgware, and Mayfair.
Mr Sieff and Mr Woolf are directors of the company.
Police officers, led by the Met’s Specialist Crime Directorate, targeted the business on Monday in what they termed Operation Rize. They have so far seized around £14 million in cash.
“Firearms, counterfeit currency, fake passports, cheque books, credit cards and high-value jewellery were also found,” a police statement said. “Four other addresses were also raided, including offices and homes of the company directors.”
Some of the safety deposit boxes are alleged to have been rented out by criminals. The hi-tech concrete and steel vaults in which they are kept are designed to be fire- and flood-resistant.
Police confirmed that a 60-year-old man was arrested in Finchley Road, North-West London, on suspicion of money-laundering and bailed until September. A 52-year-old was arrested at Heathrow Airport on the same suspicion and similarly bailed, and a 44-year-old woman was arrested in Park Street, Mayfair.
The woman, said to be fellow company director Jacqueline Swan, was also arrested on suspicion of money-laundering offences and also bailed until September. Two other men, aged 47 and 53, were arrested for obstruction but later released without charge.
Mr Sieff and Mr Woolf are both South African Jews who have lived in London since the 1980s. Mr Sieff is a former treasurer of New London Synagogue, while Mr Woolf was head of the search committee seeking to appoint a new rabbi to the New London after the death of Rabbi Louis Jacobs .
The Met said that each safety deposit box would be handled and packaged individually by forensically trained staff, and that searches of the three depots would be likely to continue “for some time”. At the time of going to press, a number of safety deposit boxes were still being searched. Armed police were due to remain at all the premises until the searches had been completed.
Commander Allan Gibson, head of the economic and specialist crime directorate, said: “Operation Rize is a huge undertaking and we are still in an early phase of the enquiry. Search teams have been working around the clock to open all the boxes at the location and are progressing well, although we are likely to remain at the locations for some time yet.
“This is a complex and unique investigation that will use all of the expertise within the economic-crime command and the findings are within our expectations at this stage.
“I am confident that this operation will have a damaging impact on organised crime in London and around the rest of the country.”
Members of the public who legitimately used the safety deposit boxes to store valuables have been reassured that items will be carefully handled and stored at a secure location. The Met said they could claim back legitimate goods by phoning 0800 030 4613.