Ex Swiss bank clerk victim of fake inheritance internet scam

Central Criminal Court
Central Criminal Court

A former Swiss bank clerk was pulled into a scheme to transport nearly €400,00 worth of cocaine after he fell victim to a fake inheritance Internet scam.

Angelo Zullino (49) was about to board at plane to London when customs officers at Dublin Airport stopped him and searched his bags. Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard officers were acting on a confidential tip-off.

The search of his suitcases uncovered packages of powder hidden inside false inserts in the lining and more drugs inside an empty laptop bag.

Garda Nicola Duffy said that the 5.4 kilos of cocaine had an estimated street value of €382,620.

Zullino of Seehaldenweg, Switzerland pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine for sale or supply at Dublin Airport on September 27, 2015.

Lawyers for Zullino said before this offence the Italian native lived in Switzerland where he had worked as a bank clerk. In 2007 he made contact with someone on an Internet dating website who claimed to be a South African woman named Chantelle.

This woman claimed she was due to inherit one million dollars but the money was in London and that she needed GBP-£275,000 up front to get it.

After Zullino had paid £200,000 over to the woman he stopped hearing from her. Zullino thought that was the end but sometime later she contacted him again and offered a way for him to get the money back from her associates.

She told him he had to travel to Dubai to pick up luggage that contained documents for a property transfer in London. Dominic McGinn SC, defending, said that his client had a very real suspicion that the bags contained something worse but said “he had to get himself out of a hole he had fallen into”.

“That is how he was sucked into this,” counsel said. He said that these type of “advance fee” frauds prey on people's naivety while accepting there was also an element of greed.

Judge Martin Nolan said it was a pretty depressing tale and that Zullino had behaved in a very naive and stupid way. He said by the way Zullino had lost his fortune to characters over the Internet he was “not too worldly wise”.

He said that Zullino was otherwise a hard working man with no previous criminal record who had made a very serious misjudgment.

Judge Nolan said that the fact that Zullino was not Irish made prison more difficult and the court could take this into account in sentencing. He imposed a sentence of three and a half years backdated to last September when he went into custody.

Additional evidence

Mr McGinn said his client had displayed a clear naivety in dealing with matters of the world. A mature man who had led a normal life, he was clearly vulnerable to online deception, he said.

He said Zullino was a victim of naivety and stupidity and there was also an element of greed. After hearing initially about the million dollar inheritance Zullino travelled to London and met some men in a warehouse who showed him a suitcase full of dollars.

They told him it could not be taken then as it needed “washing”. On returning to Switzerland he began transferring the money to “Chantelle”.

When he later went to Swiss police, investigators told him he had failed to show sufficient diligence in sending the money and the misfortune was his own fault.

Mr McGinn said his client had a modest annual income of €70,000 and the £200,000 was a large loss. He later lost his job and then his home after he failed to continue mortgage repayments.

Counsel said Zullino was not a career criminal and as a result of his stupidity he had lost all his prospects in life. He could never work in banking again and could not go back to Switzerland.

The court heard testimonials from a prison chaplain who said he believed this offence was out of character for Zullino and that he would not re-offend. While in custody he was taking part in the Samaritans listening programme and raised funds for Crumlin Children's hospital.