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Hackerville fraud gang ‘driven out of Ireland’ after ninth member convicted

Gheorghe Gherghe was high up in global crime organisation who made millions from online scams

Scammers use fake IDs and bank accounts © Getty Images

Ken FoyIndependent.ie

A 35-year-old career criminal who is a major player in an international crime organisation is the ninth member of that gang to have been convicted of fraud offences as part of an ongoing investigation by specialist detectives.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard yesterday that Gheorghe Gherghe, previously of Dargle Road, Drumcondra, Dublin, opened 17 different bank accounts using several fake IDs as part of his money-laundering activities for an organised crime group.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of using a false instrument and two counts of money-laundering at various locations within the State on dates between June 2016 and April 2019 and will be sentenced on Monday.

Gherghe is one of the main targets of a detailed international police operation – codenamed Operation Omena and led by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB). It was set up by Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan.

Online shopping fraud was what the gang made millions of euro from but after the convictions of nine significant members, gardai are confident the mob have been “driven out of Ireland”, according to sources.

Scammers use fake IDs and bank accounts © Getty Images

“Even though they are no longer based here involved in their money-laundering activities in Irish banks, Irish victims are still being targeted by this highly organised international crime organisation,” a senior source explained.

“As part of this lengthy investigation, officers from the GNECB travelled to Finland and the Netherlands, and were instrumental in having people arrested and convicted in those countries because of information received about the organisation’s money-laundering activities here in Ireland.

“Earlier this year, two suspected gang members were extradited back to Ireland from Romania and there are plans for a number of others to be arrested on foot of European Arrest Warrants next year.

Gherghe opened 17 different bank accounts between 2016 and 2019 under eight different names, using false identity documents

“This is very much an ongoing investigation and there will be no charges to follow.”

The gang at the centre of the lengthy investigation are suspected of carrying out thousands of organised frauds in other EU countries and then using Irish financial institutions to launder the cash.

Even though Gherghe is not from the Romanian town of Ramnicu Valcea, sources say he is closely associated with many gang members from the town which has been nicknamed “Hackerville”.

The central Romanian town earned its dubious title because more than 90 of its inhabitants have been arrested as part of a major EU crackdown on the fraud mob.

Officers have identified a gang from the Romanian city of Ramnicu Valcea which has been nicknamed ‘Hackerville’. Stock image

Yesterday, Dublin Circuit Court heard that Gherghe has two previous convictions from the UK for similar offences.

He was extradited from the UK in July 2021 after serving a sentence for those crimes and has been in custody ever since.

As part of this investigation, a number of accounts connected to Gherghe were uncovered.

Gardaí uncovered that Gherghe opened 17 different bank accounts between 2016 and 2019 under eight different names, using false identity documents.

About €570,000 in funds that were received “as a result of criminal activity” came into these accounts, the court heard. This included a scheme whereby fraudsters set up a website purporting to sell farm equipment.

People have been conned into paying huge money for all kinds of items from watches to cars to tractors

Victims of this fraud paid for items, such as €11,700 for a tractor, which they then never received, Eoghan Cole BL, prosecuting, told the court.

A total of €670,000 was money-laundered out of the accounts connected to Gherghe, with evidence he made a number of withdrawals, the court heard.

Judge Dara Hayes adjourned the matter for finalisation next Monday.

Among the nine other criminals convicted as part of the major garda investigation is Radu Agapie (30) was jailed for four and a half years in January 2020 after he pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Court to five counts of control of fake Polish and Hungarian identification cards, four counts of using fake documentation to open bank accounts and three counts of money-laundering on dates between July 2018 and July 2019.

A month later, another gang member Constantin Dirlescu (34) was jailed for three and a half years after pleading guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to six counts of using false passports to open bank accounts and four counts of operating accounts for money-laundering on dates between January 2019 and July 2019.

As well as from online shopping scams, the gang have been involved in rental frauds across Europe.

“Customers have been duped into paying money for bogus accommodation – they think they are renting genuine accommodation but in fact the money is being diverted to the organised criminal gang who have set up false websites,” a senior source previously said.

“In other cases people have been conned into paying huge money for all kinds of items from watches to cars to tractors in this very elaborate internet fraud. As soon as the cash goes into the gang’s bank account, it is removed from it by the criminals.”

Other criminals who have been busted as part of the GNECB investigation include Dragos Cirstea (37) who was given a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence in the UK after being extradited there from Ireland after his arrest here.

Other prolific EU-based thieves caught operating here include Ionut Grigorescu (35), who posed as a Danish national to fake his identity card and Claudiu Stefan Ciurar (24).

“This is very much an international investigation that is very much ongoing and there will be more arrests in EU states,” a senior source added.​


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