welfare probe | 

Man (20s) who bought luxury car and showed ‘trappings of wealth’ arrested over PUP scam

Gardaí have seized a top-of-the-range Audi car valued at €45,000 that was bought with cash.
Swords Garda Station, where the suspect is being held

Swords Garda Station, where the suspect is being held

Ken FoyIndependent.ie

A suspect who was being quizzed by gardaí about a massive Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) scam, amounting to almost €50,000, has been released without charge.

The man in his late 20s was arrested on Wednesday as part of a major operation mounted in relation to the scam, which involved the personal details of employees who worked in a north Dublin business.

The PUP payments totalling €49,500 was stolen in the welfare fraud after a criminal organisation obtained the employees’ details from either an internal or external data breach at the company they worked for.

The stolen money was then paid into bank accounts set up with false passports that featured the suspect’s photo.

Some of that cash was later laundered into his own personal account.

Separately, an estimated €120,000 was stolen in online fraud and paid into these same bank accounts.

The investigation is being carried out by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) and is part of Operation Skein, which targets money-laundering linked to international invoice redirect fraud.

The suspect, who is aged in his 20s, was arrested as part of the planned operation in Swords, north Co Dublin, on Wednesday in which GNECB detectives were backed up by gardaí on secondment to the Department of Social Protection.

“During the course of the search, laptops, phones, documentation, a quantity of cash and a car were seized,” a garda spokeswoman said

He has since been released and a file will now be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

A source said the suspect had been “displaying trappings of wealth”, and gardaí have seized a top-of-the-range Audi car valued at €45,000 that was bought with cash.

Fraud squad detectives also believe the man recently bought a house and believe he is strongly connected to gangs involved in scams.

“This case is slightly unusual in that the money this individual was obtaining was not being sent elsewhere,” a source said. “It appears he was keeping it all for himself.”

Sources said the suspect’s links to wider criminal organisations can be seen by the fact that an estimated €120,000 stolen in an online fraud was paid into the bogus bank accounts he set up with his own image on the false passports.

This money was obtained from a business email compromise scam.

It is understood the man, arrested earlier this week, is a close associate of a suspect who was charged with a sexual assault, but is now believed to have fled the country after being granted bail.

Gardaí said Operation Skein has led to 200 arrests for mainly money-laundering offences over the past two years.

Detectives have established that around €32m has been laundered through Irish bank accounts by criminals who have been working for the international Black Axe crime network.

This organisation originated in Nigeria, and the suspect was born there, but is now an Irish citizen.

In Ireland, the Black Axe syndicate is manned by wholesale fraudsters, targeting businesses and individuals primarily in invoice redirect fraud, “smishing” text messages and online romance scams.

Smishing is the fraudulent practice of sending text messages purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

It has not yet been established whether the man arrested this week is part of that organisation.

Operation Skein has been so successful that other EU police forces are planning on using it as a best practice model, with senior GNECB detectives giving presentations on the investigation to international police forces.

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