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

30 May 2024|News, Fraud and economic crime , International and organised crime
Five members of an organised criminal gang, which falsely claimed more than £53 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. They were sentenced to eight years, four years, three years, seven years and three months, and three years and two months imprisonment, respectively.

(Left to right) Galina Nikolova, Ali Gyunesh, Patritsia Paneva, Stoyan Stoyanov and Tsvetka Todorova
(Left to right): Galina Nikolova, Gyunesh Ali, Patritsia Paneva, Stoyan Stoyanov and Tsvetka Todorova
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 £53 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, reflected 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.”

BUILDING THE CASE

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.

Notes to editors
Ben Reid is a Specialist Prosecutor for the Regional and Wales Division of the (SEOCID)
All five defendants received the following sentences on 30 May 2024 at Wood Green Crown Court:
Galina Dimitrova Nikolova [DOB: 10/05/1985] was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. On 5 April 2024, she pleaded guilty to:
2x Conspiracy to make false representations
1x Possessing criminal property
1x Possession of articles to use in fraud
Stoyan Georgiev Stoyanov [DOB: 08/05/1996] was sentenced to four years. On 22 February 2024, he pleaded guilty to:
1x Conspiracy to make false representations
3x Possession of articles for use in fraud
Tsvetka Manolova Todorova [DOB: 20/05/1971] was sentenced to three years. On 22 February 2024, she pleaded guilty to:
1x Conspiracy to make false representations
1x Possession of articles for use in fraud
Gyunesh Magbule Ali [DOB: 06/03/1990] was sentenced to seven years and three months imprisonment. On 28 July 2023, he pleaded guilty to:
1x Conspiracy to make false representations
1x Possession of articles for use in fraud
1x Possessing criminal property
Patritsia Pancheva Paneva [DOB: 15/05/1997] was sentenced to three years and two months imprisonment. On 27 March 2023, she pleaded guilty to:
1x Entering into a money laundering arrangement
1x Possession of articles for use in fraud
Paneva also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to make false representations on 12 June 2023.
A benefit factory is a location which has the appearance of a legitimate business but with the intention to conduct benefit fraud.
Eurojust is the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, which aims to help coordinate the work of national authorities in investigating and prosecuting organised crime.
A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was established between the UK and Bulgaria. A joint investigation team (JIT) in an international cooperation tool that assists competent authorities of two or more States in carrying out cross-border criminal investigations.

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