5 Bulgarian Fraudsters Convicted In The UK

Fraud on a Massive Factory Scale

Primary Category: Criminal Justice

Authors:
•  SCARS Editorial Team – Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
•  Portions by Daily Mail

About This Article

Five Bulgarian fraudsters who defrauded the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) of £54 million have been jailed for over 25 years. The gang hijacked 6,000 identities to claim Universal Credit, using children’s names from Bulgaria.

They operated three ‘benefit factories’ in London, producing fake tenancy agreements, payslips, and letters to trick the DWP. The group flaunted their wealth on social media, with photos showing them at Antonia’s Foods supermarket in Wood Green. Ringleader Galina Nikolova, 38, was sentenced to eight years for her key role in the scam, which Judge David Aaronberg described as being conducted on an ‘industrial scale’. Stoyan Stoyanov, 27, received four years, while Gyunesh Ali, 33, was jailed for seven years and three months. Tsvetka Todorova, 52, and Patritsia Paneva, 26, received three years each.

The scam involved sophisticated techniques, including a bucket pulley system for burner phones and photoshopped images to create false claims. The money was laundered through multiple accounts, with £750,000 found in cash at one home. The DWP is pursuing further confiscation proceedings against the defendants. Secretary of State Mel Stride emphasized the commitment to protecting taxpayer money and bringing fraudsters to justice.

5 Bulgarian Fraudsters Convicted In The UK - 2024 - on SCARS ScamsNOW.com - The Magazine of Scams Fraud and Cybercrime

Five Bulgarian Fraudsters Convicted in UK’s Largest Benefit Fraud

Five Bulgarian fraudsters, who scorned the Department of Work and Pensions while amassing £54 million from Britain’s largest benefit fraud, have been jailed for over 25 years. The Eastern European gang hijacked 6,000 identities to claim Universal Credit, using names of children living in Bulgaria over a five-year scam.

Operating three ‘benefit factories’ across London, they produced fake tenancy agreements, counterfeit payslips, and forged letters from landlords, employers, and GPs to deceive the DWP. Despite their criminal activities, they brazenly posted photos on social media, smiling and posing behind the counter of Antonia’s Foods supermarket in Wood Green. They even used a bucket pulley system to pass burner phones to waiting customers, enhancing the scam’s efficiency.

The money, laundered through numerous accounts, was withdrawn in cash – with £750,000 found stuffed in suitcases at one of their homes. At Wood Green Crown Court, Judge David Aaronberg KC described the fraud as being on an ‘industrial scale.’ He highlighted messages mocking the DWP’s gullibility and photoshopped images of claimants outside properties they didn’t rent.

Galina Nikolova, 38, the ringleader, was responsible for at least £25 million in losses to UK taxpayers. She was sentenced to eight years imprisonment and will be deported to Bulgaria after serving her sentence. Her lover, Stoyan Stoyanov, 27, received four years. Gyunesh Ali, 33, filmed himself throwing wads of cash and was sentenced to seven years and three months, also facing deportation. Tsvetka Todorova, 52, and Patritsia Paneva, 26, received three years each. Paneva was the first to plead guilty and was described as ‘impressionable and naive,’ but showed bravery in her admission.

The fraud involved creating fake letters from schools to increase claim values by including non-existent or Bulgarian-resident children. Some beneficiaries never visited the UK, traveling briefly to support the claims or never arriving at all. The gang also used Photoshop to fake images of claimants in front of houses they didn’t own.

Defending Stoyanov, Alisdair Williamson KC said he was penniless after being cheated out of wages when he first arrived in the UK. He met Nikolova through the Bulgarian community, which led him astray. Simon Farrell KC, defending Nikolova, argued she wasn’t the main figure but acknowledged her role in the £1.1 million loss.

In a letter, Paneva expressed deep regret for her actions, acknowledging the country’s support for her family and vowing never to break the law again.

Ben Reid, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS, called the case the largest benefit fraud prosecution in England and Wales, emphasizing the organized criminals’ exploitation of the Universal Credit system. The CPS, DWP, and international partners worked together to dismantle the crime group. Secretary of State Mel Stride commended the DWP investigators and the Crown Prosecution Service for their work, underscoring the commitment to protect taxpayer money and bring fraudsters to justice.

According to the UK Daily Mail:

Five Bulgarian fraudsters who raked in £54million from Britain’s biggest ever benefit fraud are jailed for 25 years: Gang set up ‘benefit factories’ to hijack 6,000 identities to make claims for Universal Credit

Five Bulgarian fraudsters who mocked the Department of Work and Pensions as they raked in £54million from Britain’s biggest ever benefit scam were today jailed for more than 25 years.

The Eastern European gang hijacked 6,000 identities to make claims for Universal Credit and used the names of children living in Bulgaria as part of the five year scam.

They set up three ‘benefit factories’ across London churning out bogus tenancy agreements, counterfeit payslips and forged letters from landlords, employers, and GPs to trick the DWP.

The group appeared to be hiding in plain sight – posting photos on social media smiling and posing behind the counter of Antonia’s Foods supermarket in Wood Green.

A system involving burner phones lowered down to waiting customers via a bucket pulley mechanism was also used to improve the scam’s efficiency.

The enormous haul of money gained from their ‘complex financial web’ of claims was laundered through a number of accounts, then withdrawn in cash – with £750,000 in bank notes found stuffed in suitcases at one of their homes.

Today, the shameless gang were hauled in front of a judge at Wood Green Crown Court who said ringleader Galina Nikolova, 38, was responsible for at least £25million lost to UK taxpayers.

Two of the criminals – Galina Nikolova, 38, and Stoyan Stoyanov, 27 – pictured together in 2020 while on holiday in Turkey. Ringleader Nikolova was jailed for eight years, while Stoyanov was handed a four year prison term

Gyunesh Ali, 33, even took a video of himself throwing wads of cash at unknown woman.

Ali, Nikolova, and her boyfriend Stoyan Stoyanov, 27, along with Tsvetka Todorova, 52, and Patritsia Paneva, 26, were arrested on 5 May 2021.

Stoyanov had a tattoo of Nikolava on his right arm and posted a photo of it along with a red rose on social media.

Nikolova, who also ran her own Bulgarian interpreting firm, boasted ‘the air that I breathe’ as they cuddled in another shot while the couple also enjoyed a lavish trip to Istanbul.

DWP investigators searched their homes and found shopping bags crammed with designer goods, Rolex watches, jackets and wads of cash.

One of the hubs was behind a functioning corner shop selling groceries.

The group appeared to be hiding in plain sight – posting photos on social media smiling and posing behind the counter of Antonia’s Foods supermarket in Wood Green.

A system involving burner phones lowered down to waiting customers via a bucket pulley mechanism was also used to improve the scam’s efficiency.

The enormous haul of money gained from their ‘complex financial web’ of claims was laundered through a number of accounts, then withdrawn in cash – with £750,000 in bank notes found stuffed in suitcases at one of their homes.

Judge David Aaronberg, KC, said that the fraud was carried out on an ‘industrial scale’.

He referred to ‘messages sent to Ms Paneva including those making fun of the DWP’s gullibility in processing fraudulent claims.

‘There were also photoshopped photographs of claimants outside properties in which it was falsely claimed they were renting.

‘Photographs had been doctored to make it appear the claimant had physical access to properties which in reality they did not have.

‘There were systems in use by which phones could be lowered in a bucket out of the window to be used downstairs by those communicating bogus information to the DWP.’

Judge Aaronberg told Nikolova: ‘You bear personal responsibility for at least £25 million lost to the taxpayer.

‘The sentence I impose therefore on count two is one of eight years imprisonment.’

Nikolova, who will also be deported to Bulgaria, kept her head bowed as she was jailed.

Her lover Stoyanov, referred to the judge as a ‘trusted subordinate’, was sentenced to four years imprisonment.

The judge told Ali: ‘You played a leading role in the conspiracy which was sophisticated in its nature and which involved significant planning.

‘You offended for some four and a half years, involving yourself with, as I’ve described, a vast number of false declarations.

I’ve seen evidence of you enjoying a lavish lifestyle as demonstrated by the material found on your mobile phone.

‘You well knew long before you were originally arrested that you were involved with others in making false claims.’

Ali was jailed for seven years and three months. He will also be automatically deported to Bulgaria once he has served his sentence.

Paneva wept as she was sentenced to three years and two months imprisonment.

The judge said Paneva was ‘impressionable and naive’ in her dealings, but ‘showed bravery’ in being the first of the fraudsters to enter a guilty plea.

The judge said that Todorova’s offending was ‘sophisticated’ and ‘involved significant planning’.

She was sentenced to three years imprisonment for her involvement in defrauding the DWP of £263,419.19.

Todorova was released on licence because she had served 625 days on remand – the equivalent of the term she received.

Wearing a pink blazer, Todorova was visibly relieved at being allowed to walk free from court.

Tom Little KC, prosecuting, earlier said the gang members had forged letters from local primary and secondary schools as part of the swindle.

‘Forged letters from schools would be used if it was said that there were children part of the claim because that potentially boosted the value of the claim.

‘Children as I’ve indicated who either did not exist or lived in Bulgaria were involved in some of the claims that allowed the value to be increased.’

He said people who had never even been to the UK benefited from the scam: ‘They may have travelled here for a short period of time to support the claim before returning to Bulgaria with the claim remaining ongoing.

‘Some were already here, made the claim and then departed.

‘Some never even travelled here at all.’

Gang members also used their Photoshop skills to create fake photos of ineligible claimants stood in front of doors to imaginary houses, the court heard.

‘Stoyanov refers to having someone who works with Photoshop who does ‘magic tricks’, said Mr Little.

‘Todorova advises taking photographs in front of the house for which the false claim is being made and stated: ‘They need to take three pictures in different poses and in Photoshop they will put him in front of the door and they will open it’.’

Mr Little also referred to messages and photos shared between the defendants mocking the ‘naivety’ of the DWP.

‘Images are exchanged on the Deluxe WhatsApp Group that poke fun at the naivety of the DWP in relation to the fraudulent claims,’ Mr Little said.

Todorova, who acted as an interpreter in the scam, also moaned about the amount of effort she was having to put in.

Mr Little said: ‘Todorova was complaining about how much work she was undertaking and how she needed assistance.

‘She stated that her phone rang over 50 times a day and she had emails, messages and interviews to deal with.

‘She stated, ‘People have even paid me in advance to fix their documents because they believe in me and I can’t stand it anymore.’

‘She added that her husband is saying that she ‘will die from work because I am greedy for money’.

Ali, Nikolova, Stoyanov, Todorova, and Paneva, all admitted fraud and money laundering offences dating from between October 2016 and May 2021.

While under investigation Ali fled the country to Bulgaria. But he was extradited back to the UK on 25 February 2023.

Alisdair Williamson KC, defending Stoyanov, said he was ‘left penniless’ after being ‘cheated out of his wages’ when he first came to the UK.

‘He (then) met Miss Nikolova through the Bulgarian community and in short, his head was turned.’

Simon Farrell, KC, defending Nikolova, said she was personally responsible for a loss to the DWP of £1.1 million.

He argued she ‘wasn’t doing it on her own, nor was she a main figure’.

Referring to Nikalova’s translation company Judge Aaronberg replied: ‘She’s the G of G translations!’

Mr Farrell said: ‘She genuinely intended to provide interpreting services for Bulgarians in this country, but it quickly became apparent that by telling lies to the DWP, monies could be obtained that otherwise couldn’t have been.

‘She deeply regrets how she assisted claimants in making these false claims in judge sums’.

The judge replied: ‘She regrets being caught.’

In a letter read out to court by her barrister, Paneva said: ‘I deeply regret my actions towards this country simply because it gave me so much.

‘My grandma was able to live a couple more years, doctors started to treat my grandma’s health conditions and she got better.

‘I’m not sorry I got caught, I’m truly sorry I wronged this country.

‘Believe me – I will never break the law in any way again, I just want to make it right’.

Ben Reid, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS, earlier 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.’

Mel Stride MP, Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, said: ‘I am immensely proud of DWP investigators’ work, in collaboration with the Crown Prosecution Service, to take down this organised crime group.

‘The 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.’

Source: Five Bulgarian fraudsters who raked in £54million from Britain’s biggest ever benefit fraud are jailed for 25 years: Gang set up ‘benefit factories’ to hijack 6,000 identities to make claims for Universal Credit | Daily Mail Online

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