Eurojust has coordinated a follow-up action against an organised crime group (OCG) that defrauded mainly German speaking online investors via fictitious companies operating from Bulgaria, Ukraine and other countries. By pretending to make huge profits on simulated websites, at least 350 victims were defrauded of approximately EUR 8,5 million. During an action day, five suspects were arrested in Bulgaria. In the same case, in December last year in Ukraine, EUR 50 million in luxury cars and goods were seized. In April last year, nine suspects involved with the same OCG were arrested in Bulgaria and Serbia.
Investigations into this type of fraud scheme started in 2019 by the General Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) of Bamberg in Germany after complaints from hundreds of victims in Germany, Austria and other European countries. This week’s operations are part of a continuous effort of judicial authorities to crack down on this type of fraud, with support and coordination by Eurojust, and are a follow-up to the actions in April 2020 in Bulgaria and Serbia.
The OCG asked victims to make an initial payment of EUR 250 to 300 to invest in financial instruments such as binary options, cryptocurrencies and foreign currencies. Following these payments, investors were approached via fake call centres or Messenger services, often speaking German to gain more trust.
By pretending they had made considerable initial profits and showing false online simulations, customers were lured into making bigger investments. Subsequently, significant amounts of money were lost, with funds transferred into various bank accounts and via credit card payments.
In reality, no investments took place. Via a complex money laundering network covering many European countries, the investments were transferred to participants in the fraud scheme. The companies at the end of this chain were under the control of the OCG members, withdrawing the funds for themselves.
Last year, the operation concerned complaints of over a thousand German speaking investors. In this follow-up, it is likely that many more than the 350 mentioned investors are involved given the perpetrators targeted people in many countries in Europe and beyond.
Furthermore, investigators assume a high number of unreported cases since many investors may have mistakenly considered their losses a result of the high risks associated with the trading of certain financial products. During this week’s action day, multiple places were searched and computer and telecommunications equipment was seized.
© UA Prosecutor General’s Office
Eurojust supported the operation by facilitating the execution of European Investigation Orders and European Arrest Warrants (EAWs), helping to organise and enabling the cooperation during the action day. Furthermore, assistance was provided with the coordination of investigations and the execution of requests for Mutual Legal Assistance from Germany to Ukraine, which lead to a successful action day in Ukraine in December 2020.
The operation was led by the Bavarian Central Office for the Prosecution of Cybercrime at the Bamberg General PPO and the Criminal Investigation Department Bamberg. In Bulgaria, the action day was prepared and coordinated by the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office. The five EAWs were simultaneously executed by the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office, Pernik District Prosecutor’s Office and Blagoevgrad District Prosecutor’s Office.
In Ukraine pre-trial investigations of criminal proceedings are carried out under the procedural guidance of the Prosecutor General’s Office by the Main Investigation Department of the National Police of Ukraine, with operational support of the Department of Strategic Investigations of the National Police of Ukraine.