'Naive' social media influencer spared jail time for money laundering

Karine Lawani (22) of Foxbororough Road, Lucan, Co Dublin pleaded guilty in July to money laundering.
'Naive' social media influencer spared jail time for money laundering

Tom Tuite

A “naive” model and social media influencer has avoided jail and a criminal record for letting a fraudster use her bank account to transfer crime proceeds.

Karine Lawani (22), a psychology student of Foxborough Road, Lucan, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty in July to money laundering.

Ms Lawani, who wants to be a prison therapist, claimed she unknowingly became involved after a man contacted her through Snapchat.

Detective Garda John Saunderson told Dublin District Court that €5,430 was transferred into Ms Lawani's Permanent TSB bank account on February 11th, 2020.

At the resumed hearing on Friday, Judge Bryan Smyth noted Ms Lawani paid back all the money. In addition, a probation report stated she was at low risk of reoffending.

Her barrister pleaded for her client to be spared a recorded conviction due to extenuating circumstances. Counsel asked the judge to note Lawani had suffered from publicity which led to threats.

'Victim of her own kindness'

The pre-sentence report found Ms Lawani to be at the “lowest end of recklessness, someone who was a victim of her own kindness”.

Judge Smyth said he thought an influencer would be tech-savvy and difficult to be duped in this way. However, he applied the Probation of Offender's Act, sparing her a criminal record as well as a custodial sentence.

Earlier, the court heard a Waterford-based firm had received an email purporting to be from a supplier seeking payment of an invoice.

The firm transferred the money as instructed, and there were two withdrawals from Ms Lawani's account on the same date.

Gardaí obtained CCTV evidence showing an “unknown male withdrawing €1,500 from the account” at an ATM in the Liffey Valley shopping centre.

Ms Lawani took out €3,200 from a bank machine on Dublin’s O’Connell Street and two days later €700 was withdrawn.

Detective Garda Saunderson said Ms Lawani was arrested and interviewed in January. She claimed she saw a Snapchat message from a man looking for a Permanent TSB account, so he could receive a payment from someone else.

The detective agreed with Karla Ray BL that Ms Lawani was cooperative. She identified herself on CCTV footage and acknowledged it was her account.

When the detective put it to her that she allowed it to be used for transferring stolen money, she replied: “I unknowingly allowed it. If I had not, I wouldn't have.”

The bank was at a loss, not the company, the court heard.

Ms Lawani, who is expecting a child, gave the court a written apology.

Counsel said she completed a degree in psychology and hoped to do a Master's course to become a prison therapist to help unfortunate members of society. The model had also done charity work, and there was a reference from her church pastor, the court heard.

Ms Lawani now lives in the UK and works as a model. She is also a social media influencer and has “a large online profile” with “many friends who are not friends in real life”.

The barrister said her client interacted stupidly and naively because she wanted to help out over a simple bank transfer.

The court was told she was extremely remorseful and embarrassed and wanted to pay the money back.

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