Fraud gang that falsely claimed £50m of benefit money ‘poked fun’ at DWP

Five members of a gang that falsely claimed more than £50 million in universal credit sent messages which “poked fun at the naivety” of the Department for Work and Pensions, a court has heard.

Bulgarians Galina Nikolova, 39, Stoyan Stoyanov, 28, Tsvetka Todorova, 53, Gyunesh Ali, 34, and Patritsia Paneva, 27, were responsible for the largest benefit fraud and money laundering-related offences ever seen in England and Wales.

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.

The defendants 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.

Benefits fraud court case
Galina Nikolova, Gyunesh Ali, Patritsia Paneva, Stoyan Stoyanov and Tsvetka Todorova (CPS/PA)

They pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering-related offences earlier this year.

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

Mr Little described the gang’s offending as “well organised”, with “many thousands of fraudulent claims for universal credit being made to the DWP and being paid out”.

A video shown to the court depicted one defendant 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 hijacked 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, fled to Bulgaria but was extradited back to the UK on February 25 2023, the CPS said.

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