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Bulgarian fraudsters behind £53.9 million benefits scam brought to justice in UK’s largest benefit fraud case

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A group of Bulgarian nationals who stole over £50 million of UK taxpayers’ money has been brought to justice in the largest ever benefit fraud case in England and Wales. 

  • Five people who stole £53.9 million through fabricated benefit claims have been brought to justice in England and Wales’ largest benefit fraud case. 
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) investigators, working with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), caught the fraudsters after extensive investigation. 
  • Convictions come as the DWP saved at least £18 billion in 2022/23. 

Five people have pleaded guilty to numerous charges involving creating false Universal Credit claims worth £53,901,959.82. 

The defendants who have pleaded guilty at Wood Green Crown Court were: Galina Nikolova, 38; Stoyan Stoyanov, 27; Tsvetka Todorova, 52, Gyunesh Ali, 33, and Patritsia Paneva, 26. All defendants are of Bulgarian nationality. 

DWP investigators worked to track and catch the fraudsters, gathering extensive evidence of false tenancy agreements and shell companies created to show false employment claims, including counterfeit payslips and GP notes. The group also created many false identity documents. 

The courts will now proceed with sentencing the defendants as the DWP and CPS work to recover the money stolen.

Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride MP, said: 

I am immensely proud of DWP investigators’ work, in collaboration with the Crown Prosecution Service, to take down this organised crime group. 

Building on our success in preventing £18 billion going into the wrong hands in 2022/23, these convictions underline our commitment to protecting taxpayers’ money. It is only right and fair that we bring those stealing from the public purse to justice.

Minister responsible for tackling benefit fraud, Paul Maynard MP, added: 

Our investigators are working tirelessly to catch benefit cheats and this case builds upon our plan to save £1.3 billion on fraud and error. 

At the same time, our Fraud Plan will help us implement a long-term strategy to minimise fraud and error and ensure value and fairness for the taxpayer.

Ben Reid, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS, said: 

This case is the largest benefit fraud prosecution ever brought to the courts in England and Wales.  

This was a complex and challenging case which required close and effective working between CPS prosecutors, the Department for Work and Pensions and our international partners in both Bulgaria and through the UK desk at Eurojust, to dismantle and successfully prosecute the organised crime group. The guilty pleas entered by all five defendants, reflects the strength of the evidence against them.   

The CPS Proceeds of Crime Division will now pursue confiscation proceedings against the defendants, to remove from them any available criminal benefit from this enterprise.

The defendants laundered money from the false benefit claims and sent incriminating WhatsApp messages that shared forged documents. 

Investigators also found “claim packs” at the houses of defendants, which were created for others to make false benefit claims and included false documents such as bank statements, fake photographic identification, and forged information on dependants. 

Additional items seized included bundles of cash stuffed into shopping bags and suitcases, designer goods such as watches, jackets and glasses, and a luxury car. 

This latest case comes as the government continues to turn the tide on benefit cheats. DWP’s Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System plan, backed by £900 million over three years, bolsters the counter-fraud frontline with measures including trained specialists to review millions of Universal Credit claims.  

This counter fraud clampdown, together with wider benefit checks and controls, saved at least £18 billion in 2022/23 and saw fraud and error fall by 10 percent.  

DWP is now pushing to go further with a target to save the taxpayer £1.3 billion through counter fraud and error in 2023/24. 

Source: Department for Work and Pensions

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