Bulgarian fraud gang in north London swindled £54m in benefits before being caught

A criminal gang scammed £54 million out of the taxpayer’s pocket in one of the biggest benefits fraud cases in UK history.

The group of five, all originally from Bulgaria, made around 6,000 fraudulent Universal Credit claims between October 2016 and May 2021.

They used fake tenancy agreements, bogus payslips and forged letters from landlords, employers and GPs.

Galina Nikolova, 38, Stoyan Stoyanov, 27, Tsvetka Todorova, 52, Gyunesh Ali, 33, and Patritsia Paneva, 26, all pleaded guilty at Wood Crown Green Court on Tuesday.

They were all arrested on May 5 2021 and released under investigation, before Ali tried to flee back to Bulgaria and was extradited back to the UK.

While looking into the gang, investigators discovered three “benefits factories” where repeated false claims for benefits originated from.

Galina Nikolova (CPS)

Galina Nikolova (CPS)

Tsvetka Todorova (CPS)Tsvetka Todorova (CPS)

Tsvetka Todorova (CPS)

The businesses claimed to assist people with obtaining a national insurance number and benefits to which they are entitled.

But those who made claims through these companies would then be left in the hands of the fraud group.

They then laundered the money, moving it between accounts and drawing it out in cash.

Footage, found on a phone during the investigation, shows them throwing multiple £20 notes in the air in a flat.

Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS Ben Reid said: “This case is the largest benefit fraud prosecution ever brought to the courts in England and Wales.

A video showed the group throwing £20 notes on the floor (CPS)A video showed the group throwing £20 notes on the floor (CPS)

A video showed the group throwing £20 notes on the floor (CPS)

“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, reflect the strength of the evidence against them.

The group withdrew a lot of money in cash (CPS)The group withdrew a lot of money in cash (CPS)

The group withdrew a lot of money in cash (CPS)

Patritsia Paneva (CPS)Patritsia Paneva (CPS)

Patritsia Paneva (CPS)

“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.”

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.

“Today’s convictions underline our commitment to protecting taxpayers’ money and it is only right and fair that we bring to justice those stealing from the public purse. My message is simple – if you are committing benefit fraud, you are cheating the taxpayer, and we will catch you.”

Stoyan Stoyanov (CPS)Stoyan Stoyanov (CPS)

Stoyan Stoyanov (CPS)

Gyunesh Ali (CPS)Gyunesh Ali (CPS)

Gyunesh Ali (CPS)


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