Universal Credit fraudsters stole over £50 MILLION as they mocked 'naive' DWP

Gang/Court sign/money

The gang were behind the largest benefit fraud scam in English and Welsh history

PA/Google/Getty
James Saunders

By James Saunders


Published: 29/05/2024

- 09:06

Updated: 29/05/2024

- 09:58

The five Bulgarians made thousands of false claims for benefits using real people or hijacked identities, with claims supported by a slew of forged documents

A Bulgarian gang which fraudulently claimed over £50million in Universal Credit "poked fun at the naivety" of the Department for Work and Pensions, a court has heard.

Galina Nikolova, 39, Stoyan Stoyanov, 28, Tsvetka Todorova, 53, Gyunesh Ali, 34, and Patritsia Paneva, 27, were behind the largest benefit fraud scam, which rumbled on for five years, in English and Welsh history.


The quintet had pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering-related offences earlier this year, but now a court has been told of the sheer scale of their crimes - and the lifestyle they were awarded by their fraudulent activities.

Bundles of cash stuffed in shopping bags and suitcases, a luxury car and designer goods including watches, jackets and glasses were found during a raid on their properties, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.

Bulgarian criminals

Galina Nikolova, Gyunesh Ali, Patritsia Paneva, Stoyan Stoyanov and Tsvetka Todorova (left to right, as reading) pleaded guilty to a number of offences this year

PA

Their haul had come from a seven-figure fortune earned by a litany of forged documents and fraudulent claims - what the CPS described as a "benefit factory".

The gang had made thousands of false claims for benefits using real people or hijacked identities, with claims supported by an array of forged documents including tenancy agreements, payslips and letters from landlords, employers, schools and GPs.

And during the first day of their sentencing hearing at Wood Green Crown Court in North London on Tuesday, prosecutor Tom Little KC said evidence had been found which showed the group exchanging images on WhatsApp which poked "fun at the naivety of the DWP in relation to the fraudulent claims".

Little said the gang's offending was "well-organised", with "many thousands of fraudulent claims for universal credit being made to the DWP and being paid out".

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Wood Green Crown Court

The quintet were being sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court in North London

Google

A video shown to the court showed one of the defendants showering someone in their home with £20 notes.

Over a four-and-a-half-year period between October 2016 and May 2021, the gang made thousands of false claims for universal credit using real people or false identities.

If claims were rejected, the fraudsters kept trying until they were granted, the court heard.

Investigators discovered three "benefit factories" in London, the CPS said, claiming to help people get a National Insurance number using "claim packs" containing forged and false documents.

After applicants made their claims, they were left in the hands of the gang who laundered money through a number of accounts.

After his release under investigation, one of the five defendants, Ali, had fled to his native Bulgaria.

But the offender was extradited back to the UK on February 25 last year, the CPS said.

All five defendants are expected to be sentenced in the coming days.

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