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exclusive Credit card fraud kingpin was claiming PUP from his cell while awaiting trial

Daniel Almajanu (35) was jailed for four years and four months on Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to two counts of having custody of 53 fake bank cards and one count of making 65 fake bank cards at various locations around Dublin between January 1 and February 13 last year.

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Daniel Almajanu was collecting PUP while awaiting trial

Daniel Almajanu was collecting PUP while awaiting trial

Daniel Almajanu was collecting PUP while awaiting trial

THE leader of a major international fraud gang was claiming Pandemic Unemployment Payments (PUP) from the State despite being locked up in jail awaiting his court outcome, the Herald can reveal.

Daniel Almajanu (35) was jailed for four years and four months on Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to two counts of having custody of 53 fake bank cards and one count of making 65 fake bank cards at various locations around Dublin between January 1 and February 13 last year.

The Romanian national also pleaded guilty to one count of possessing a laptop designed to make false cards.

Gardaí said this week that data found on that laptop showed that he could have made up to €5m from his cloned credit card scam.

It has now emerged that detectives from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) have established that a "third party bank account" using the criminal's name and date of birth, as well as a bogus PPS number, was able to obtain €2,400 from the State between April and June last year.

During this time Almajanu was locked up in Cloverhill Prison in Dublin after his initial arrest by Pearse Street gardaí on February 14 last year.

"It might seem a shocking state of affairs that this happened but the PUP scheme has been wide open to organised fraudsters ever since it was introduced," a senior source told the Herald.

The bizarre development came to light when fraud squad detectives carried out an unconnected raid in Dublin last June and learned the gangster may have been building up a potential nest-egg of tens of thousands of euro in the "third party account".

"Here you have a major criminal sitting in jail, who never worked in this country in his life, potentially getting €350 in Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payments - the payments were stopped as soon as gardaí discovered what happened," the senior source said.

As part of the same investigation that revealed the Almajanu link, the GNECB has frozen 14 bank accounts and also received notification from the DPP that one male is to be charged with 76 offences in relation to PUP fraud.

Gardaí are increasingly concerned about this type of fraud and have come across a number of examples of multiple fraudulent claims being paid into just one bank account.

Almajanu has four convictions in Romania and the UK for similar fraud offences and has been a long-term target for international agencies including Europol and the American Secret Service.

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Gardaí are investigating if he was to be a "direct beneficiary" of the PUP fraud using his details or if his associates were to pocket the cash.

When contacted about the wider issue of PUP fraud, a spokesman at the Department of Social Protection said the Government has now paid more than €5.5bn in PUP and at its peak more than 598,000 people were dependent on this income support, drawn from all employment sectors.

"The Department would like to emphasise that its Special Investigation Unit team - which includes 21 gardaí on secondment from An Garda Síochána - are conducting a number of joint operations with the gardaí specifically target at identity fraud cases on the PUP scheme at a number of locations across the country," the spokesman said.

"These joint operations have given rise to a number of successful prosecutions, with further investigations ongoing.

"The Department will continue to work closely with the gardaí on these cases."

During 2020, around 72,000 control reviews of PUP claims were carried out by officers of the Department, resulting in more than 24,000 claims in payment being stopped, the spokesman said.

The Department said it has developed a series of controls and compliance checks to ensure that the payment of the PUP is only being made to those entitled to the income support.

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