Members of Britain’s biggest benefit fraud gang jailed for a combined total of more than 25 years

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Wood Green Crown Court, Lordship Lane, London N22. Photographer: Arbus Driver. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales license.

Five members of an organised criminal gang, which falsely claimed more than £50 million in Universal Credit in the largest benefit fraud in England and Wales, have been jailed.

Bulgarian nationals Galina Nikolova, 39, Stoyan Stoyanov, 28, Tsvetka Todorova, 53, Gyunesh Ali, 34, and Patritsia Paneva, 27, have all been jailed today (30 May 2024) at Wood Green Crown Court after pleading guilty to fraud and money laundering related offences for their involvement in a multi-million-pound scam on the benefit system to eight years.

They were sentenced to eight years, four years, three years, seven years and three months, and three years and two months imprisonment, respectively.

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.

“For a number of years, these defendants conspired to commit industrial-scale fraud against the Universal Credit system, costing the taxpayer more than £50 million.

“Submitting thousands of false claims, the organised criminals enriched themselves from government funds designed to protect and help the most vulnerable people in our society.  

“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 and DWP will now pursue confiscation proceedings against the defendants, to remove from them any available criminal benefit from this enterprise.”

The CPS successfully prosecuted the five defendants following a detailed and comprehensive investigation by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Over a four-and-a-half-year period, between October 2016 and May 2021, this organised crime group made thousands of false claims for Universal Credit using either real people or false identities. These claims were supported by an array of forged documents, including fictitious tenancy agreements, counterfeit payslips and forged letters from landlords, employers, schools, and GPs. If the claims were rejected, the fraudsters would try again and again until they were granted.

The investigation identified three ‘benefit factories’ in London where repeated false claims for benefits originated from. The businesses claimed to assist people with obtaining a national insurance number and benefits to which they are entitled.

However, it was found that many of the applicants travelled to the UK for the purpose of making claims for benefits through these sources. After making their claims they returned to their country of origin, leaving their claim in the hands of the organised crime group.  

The money gained from these fraudulent claims was then laundered as it was moved between a number of accounts through numerous transfers and withdrawn in cash.  

Arrests of the five defendants were first made on 5 May 2021 and a number of properties were searched.

During these searches hundreds of ‘claim packs’ containing forged and false documents were found and seized, as well as bundles of cash stuffed in shopping bags and suitcases, a luxury car and designer goods including watches, jackets, and jewellery.

Following his release under investigation, one of the five defendants, Ali, fled the country to Bulgaria. As a result of collaborative work between the CPS, DWP and Bulgarian authorities, Ali was extradited back to the UK on 25 February 2023 so that he could face justice.

When faced with the large amount of incriminating evidence which included encrypted messages, CCTV footage, forged documents, seized digital devices and bank statements, the defendants eventually all pleaded guilty.

The CPS is committed to continuing to work closely with law enforcement, investigatory authorities and international partners including Eurojust, to bring organised criminals and companies engaged in fraud and money laundering to justice.    


Source: Crown Prosecution Service   
Photo:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales license. 

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