A Hong Kong 'snakehead' described as a key financial player behind the Dover tragedy, in which 58 illegal immigrants died while being smuggled into Britain, has been sentenced to four years in prison. The finding follows a covert investigation by Hong Kong, Australian and British law enforcement agencies, code-named Operation Leafmould, into a $500 million money laundering racket operating out of Hong Kong. Handing down judgment in the District Court yesterday, Deputy Judge Tong Man said Lam Hei-kit, 29, was a key figure in the smuggling ring which co-ordinated the Dover operation. 'His role was by no means minor,' Judge Tong said. 'This international immigrant smuggling operation was very sizeable by any stretch of the imagination. The operation could not have proceeded without his [Lam's] efforts.' Judge Tong said evidence showed Lam's brother, Lam Hei-kwong, who is still at large, was the 'prime mover' in the snakehead syndicate. But he refused an appeal by defence barrister Lawrence Kok SC that Lam was simply 'a custodian and not co-conspirator' in the racket. 'Evidence showed the defendent [Lam] was not the prime mover . . . but he was the custodian of stolen and forged passports,' he said. 'He was the fund-mover of the money flowing out of the enterprise. 'He may well have taken part under the influence of his brother. But to say he was used as an instrument . . . is beyond belief.' Judge Tong found Lam guilty of all four charges - two counts of money laundering and two counts of possessing unlawfully obtained passports - and sentenced him to four years imprisonment. The maximum penalty for both offences is up to 14 years imprisonment and up to $5 million in fines, although sentences of up to only seven years can be imposed at the District Court. Dressed in a beige sports coat and white running shoes, Lam broke down and wept as he was dragged away after sentencing. The court had earlier heard how just hours after the discovery of 58 bodies of illegal immigrants who had suffocated in a cargo container on June 30, 2000, a deposit of US$120,000 (HK$936,000) and one of HK$1.78 million was deposited into Lam's bank accounts. During simultaneous raids in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong on March 12, 2001, Lam was arrested by the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau after they discovered more than 120 false travel documents, a fake mainland immigration chop and a quantity of passport-sized photographs in a spare bedroom at his Mongkok home. Lam told police the money, stolen passports and chop belonged to his brother. The money trail was uncovered as part of Operation Leafmould, which was launched in 2000 to investigate huge amounts of money flowing into Hong Kong bank accounts. Police intelligence revealed the funds originated from mainland Chinese illegal immigrants and were believed destined for snakeheads on the mainland who had facilitated their clandestine entry to Australia and the UK. Police yesterday applied to the court for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime involving about $6 million of Lam's assets. Judge Tong set down the forfeiture application hearing for April 30.