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'tangled web' Restaurants employing illegal immigrants among businesses targeted in probe into fraudulent PUP payments


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An ongoing investigation into fraudulent PUP and social welfare payments uncovered a “tangled web” of criminality which involved illegal immigration into Ireland, it has emerged.

Gardai tlast night announced details of a “multi-agency operation” which led to the arrests of five men who are suspected of working here illegally or facilitating that crime in various restaurants in the Tullamore area of Co Offaly.

The Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) became involved in the operation as part of a wider probe into foreign nationals, some of whom are not entitled to be resident here, attempting to fraudulently claim the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and social welfare.

“The operation that was announced today is only the tip of the iceberg really in the sense that PUP payments have been rampantly exploited by criminal gangs since the pandemic began and dole fraud has been in existence for decades,” a senior source said.

“But it is not just criminal gangs – the Department of Social Protection have been working constantly with gardai on a constant basis often targeting people on Monday mornings at construction sites and other places of work who have been earning their wage as a builder and so on while claiming the PUP payment.

“The operation in Co Offaly this week is different in terms that people were identified who were not even legally in this country – the original investigation turned this up and then the gardai were notified,” the source added.

It can be revealed that many of the business premises targeted in Thursday’s operation are working in restaurants.

Gardai announced details of the operation earlier.

“A multi-agency operation, led by the Garda National Immigration Bureau, targeting business premises in the Tullamore area took place yesterday Thursday 7th October, 2021. The operation involved officers from GNIB, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Department of Social Protection,” a garda spokeswoman said.

“This investigation arises from ongoing multi-agency cooperation between the Departments which identified suspected abuses of Department of Social Welfare and Social Welfare fraud.

“The search comprised of 22 separate business premises being subjected to unannounced inspections and five men (aged from 38 to 47 years) were arrested.

“The five arrests relate to offences contrary to Section 12 of the Immigration Act, 2004 and Section 2(1) of The Employment Permits Act 2003.

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“All five men were charged with these offences and bailed to appear before Tullamore District Court on the 13th October 2021,” she added.

On Wednesday, figures from the Department of Social Protection show that the overall number of people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment has now fallen to just over 101,000 this week - its lowest level to date.

The PUP closed to new entrants on July 8 and a large team of gardai are currently investigating Pandemic Unemployment Payment claims to check for fraud and overpayment but this has been ongoing for over a year and a half.

Scammers quickly focused on the PUP payment scheme when it was set up in March last year as an emergency government response to the Covid-19 crisis.

More than 140 cases of fraudulent PUP payments were claimed using information stolen from innocent citizens up until May 23, with one person having claims of €7,300 made with their details, according to the Department of Social Protection.

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