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thousands fleeced Eastern European crime gang targeted over €100k Pandemic Unemployment Payment fraud

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(stock photo)

(stock photo)

(stock photo)

An Eastern European organised crime gang have been targeted after "a web of bank accounts" were uncovered which contained over €100,000 in fraudulent Pandemic Unemployment Payments.

Gardaí said a total of 28 people in two counties were targeted in yesterday's operation, which was backed up by armed officers.

They had been "identified as being active participants" in the PUP fraud.

The European law agency Europol is also heavily involved in the probe, which started in May.

Many of those involved in obtaining fraudulent PUP payments do not even reside in Ireland.

Last night senior sources revealed the Eastern European mob - made up of mainly Czech and Slovak nationals - are one of a number of organised crime networks who are fraudulently obtaining PUP cash.

"This is a massive nationwide problem. It is estimated that millions of euro has been fleeced in an organised fashion in the past eight months or so," a senior source said.

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"While this latest operation was focused on Limerick and Clare, there are issues all over the country.

"In Dublin there has been a particular problem with organised Romanian criminals; a Nigerian crew operating in Cork; while there are other nationalities involved in this in the midlands, particularly in Longford."

The PUP was launched in March and is capped at €350 a week.

On Tuesday, the Department of Social Protection said that 351,424 people will receive a normal PUP this week at a cost of €103.65m.

It is understood that around 20,000 people have had their PUP stopped after investigations by the Department of Social Protection.

All cases of suspected PUP fraud are investigated by the Department's special investigation unit, which includes 21 gardaí.

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