Universal credit fraudsters jailed for combined total of more than 25 years after stealing £53million

Wood Green Crown Court

The five appeared at Wood Green Crown Court

George Bunn

By George Bunn

Published: 30/05/2024

- 14:19

A judge said it was 'the largest case ever prosecuted for benefit fraud'

Five members of a gang that falsely claimed more than £53million in universal credit, in what is thought to be the largest benefit fraud and money laundering-related scheme seen in England and Wales, have been jailed.

Judge David Aaronberg KC said that Gyunesh Ali, 34, had committed fraud by false representation "on an industrial scale" during the scheme.

The scheme involved fellow Bulgarians Galina Nikolova, 39, Stoyan Stoyanov, 28, Tsvetka Todorova, 53, and Patritsia Paneva, 27.

On Thursday at London’s Wood Green Crown Court, they were sentenced to a total of 25 years and five months’ imprisonment after previously pleading guilty to fraud and money laundering-related offences.

\u200bThe five were jailed after pleading guilty at Wood Green Crown Court

The five were jailed after pleading guilty at Wood Green Crown Court


The judge warned them they are all liable to be deported after servicing their sentences and added that "an enormous amount of work" by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had to be carried out in order to prosecute the gang.

He said: “This is believed to be cumulatively the largest case ever prosecuted for benefit fraud on the DWP. It was a difficult case to unravel and prosecute in a coherent fashion to the court."

Over a four-and-a-half-year period, between October 2016 and May 2021, the 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 repeatedly try again until they were granted.

\u200b Galina Nikolova, Gyunesh Ali, Patritsia Paneva, Stoyan Stoyanov and Tsvetka Todorova

Galina Nikolova, Gyunesh Ali, Patritsia Paneva, Stoyan Stoyanov and Tsvetka Todorova have been jailed


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. 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.”

\u200bBodycam footage of the moment Nikolova was arrested

Bodycam footage shows the moment Nikolova was arrested


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.

Nikolova was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Stoyanov was sentenced to four years.

Todorova was sentenced to three years. Ali was sentenced to seven years and three months imprisonment. Paneva was sentenced to three years and two months imprisonment.

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