Bulgarian fraud gang stole £54 million in biggest ever benefits scam that funded luxury lifestyle

10 April 2024, 05:28 | Updated: 10 April 2024, 08:58

The fraud gang made 6,000 false benefits claims
The fraud gang made 6,000 false benefits claims. Picture: CPS

By Kit Heren

A Bulgarian gang stole £54 million in the biggest ever benefits scam seen in England and Wales.

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Galina Nikolova, 38, Stoyan Stoyanov, 27, Tsvetka Todorova, 52, Gyunesh Ali, 33, and Patritsia Paneva, 26, took the money using three "benefits factories" in London.

They made around 6,000 false benefits claims using forged GP letters and fake payslips between 2016 and 2021, when they were arrested.

Police raided them and found the false documents, as well as wads of cash stuffed into shopping bags and suitcases, and a luxury car.

They also found an array of other expensive items, including watches, jackets, and glasses.

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Stoyan Stoyanov
Stoyan Stoyanov. Picture: CPS
Galina Nikolova
Galina Nikolova. Picture: CPS
Gyunesh Ali
Gyunesh Ali. Picture: CPS

All five have pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering-related offences, and will be sentenced on May 28.

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

A suitcase packed with cash
A suitcase packed with cash. Picture: CPS

"For a number of years, these defendants conspired to commit industrial-scale fraud against the Universal Credit system, costing the taxpayer more than £50m.

"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."

Tsvetka Todorova
Tsvetka Todorova. Picture: CPS
Patritsia Paneva
Patritsia Paneva. Picture: CPS

Mel Stride, 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.

"Building on our success in preventing £18 billion going into the wrong hands in 2022/23, these convictions underline our commitment to protecting taxpayers’ money. It is only right and fair that we bring those stealing from the public purse to justice."