Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Five criminals behind multi-million pound benefit fraud convicted in the United Kingdom with support from Eurojust

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Five members of an organised crime group (OCG) responsible for the largest ever fraud against the United Kingdom benefit system have been convicted. The suspects, all Bulgarian nationals, have pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering offences at the Wood Green Crown Court. The damage caused by the scam is estimated at more than GBP 50 million (EUR 58 million).

The Agency supported the case and assisted the UK and Bulgarian authorities in setting up and funding a joint investigation team (JIT) into the case.

Between October 2016 and May 2021, the OCG made thousands of false claims for Universal Credit (UK social security payment) using either real people or hijacked identities. These claims were supported by an array of forged documents, including fictitious tenancy agreements, counterfeit payslips and forged letters from landlords, employers and GPs. If the claims were rejected, the fraudsters would try again and again until they were granted.

The money gained from these fraudulent claims was then laundered by moving it between several accounts through numerous transfers.

In some cases, the OCG leaders recruited people from Bulgaria, obtained their identity documents and paid them a share of the proceeds from the false benefit claims made on their behalf. The recruits then returned to Bulgaria with the proceeds of their crimes, which alerted the Bulgarian authorities.

The suspects were first arrested in the United Kingdom on 5 May 2021. Following his release under investigation, one of the five defendants fled to Bulgaria. As a result of collaborative work between the UK and Bulgarian authorities, the suspect was extradited back to the United Kingdom on 25 February 2023 to face justice.

The case was opened at Eurojust in June 2021 at the request of the UK authorities. Two coordination meetings were hosted by the Agency to coordinate the national investigations and discuss judicial cooperation matters, including the surrender of suspects and asset recovery.

A JIT was set up between the UK and Bulgarian authorities with the support of Eurojust in January 2022. The JIT has enabled the direct exchange of evidence between authorities, especially banking evidence, to support the recovery and confiscation of assets.

The following authorities took part in this investigation:

  • Bulgaria: District Prosecutor’s Office- Sliven
  • United Kingdom: Crown Prosecution Service, Department for Work and Pensions
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