Britain’s biggest ever benefit fraudsters who swindled £54m to splurge on designer clothes and luxury cars are locked up

A GANG who swindled £54million to fund their lavish lifestyles in Britain’s biggest ever benefit fraud have been jailed.

The five crooks made 6,000 bogus claims then used the cash to buy designer clothes, flash watches and luxury cars.

The gang stole millions from taxpayers

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The gang stole millions from taxpayers
Galina Nikolov behind the counter of a corner shop the gang was using

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Galina Nikolov behind the counter of a corner shop the gang was using
They spent the money on luxury cars and designer gear

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They spent the money on luxury cars and designer gearCredit: CPS

Galina Nikolova, 38, Stoyan Stoyanov, 27, Tsvetka Todorova, 52, Gyunesh Ali, 33, and Patritsia Paneva, 26, took a total of £53,901,959.82 in Universal Credit payments.

The Bulgarian fraudsters operated on an “industrial scale” out the back of three corner shops in Wood Green, North London.

They used real people and stolen identities to make the fraudulent claims, which were backed up with falsified dociments.

If their claims were denied, the brazen gang just persistently re-applied until they were approved.

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The court was told the gang had poked “fun at the naivety of the Department of Work and Pensions in relation to the fraudulent claims”.

Shocking footage even showed one of the crooks, Gyunesh Ali, throwing cash on the floor for an unknown woman to pick up as part of a “game”.

The gang have now been jailed for a total of 25 years after admitting fraud and money laundering.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) labelled the criminal operation as the largest case of benefit fraud ever discovered in England and Wales.

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The sophisticated scheme involved the group using a library of fake identities used to make fraudulent claims.

Each claim was allocated a different mobile number and came attached with a litany of fake documents, including tenancy agreements, counterfeit payslips.

Forged letters from GPs, landlords, and employees were also used to bolster the claims.

Some of the claims were also made using details from real people, who would pay the gang to use their identities to make the claims on their behalf.

Police found wads of cash stashed in suitcases

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Police found wads of cash stashed in suitcasesCredit: CPS
One of the gang was filmed throwing cash on the floor for an unknown woman to pick up

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One of the gang was filmed throwing cash on the floor for an unknown woman to pick up

The Universal Credit was paid into hundreds of different bank accounts and then withdrawn by the criminals at the bank.

They then laundered the money between various accounts through multiple transfers and cash withdrawals.

The four-year fraud finally came to an end in May 2021 when a policeman in Sliven, Bulgaria, tipped off British authorities.

He told officials the city was suddenly awash with cash and criminals who were “living like barons”.

Police raided several properties in North London and discovered hundreds of ‘claim packs’ filled with counterfeit and false documents, along with £750,000 cash hidden in suitcases and shopping bags.

A black Audi, two Emporio Armani watches, two Versace watches, Gucci shoes and Chanel trainers were also seized.

Even after the gang had been arrested, Stoyanov kept making fraudulent claims.

In total, he defrauded the taxpayer of a further £17,000 while under investigation.

His role in the conspiracy was to “act as a conduit for those higher up in the chain”.

Specialist CPS prosecutor Ben Reid said: “These defendants conspired to commit industrial-scale fraud against the Universal Credit system.

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“Submitting thousands of false claims, the organised criminals enriched themselves from government funds designed to protect and help the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Tsvetka Todorova was among the gang

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Tsvetka Todorova was among the gangCredit: CPS
Patritsia Paneva admitted fraud

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Patritsia Paneva admitted fraudCredit: CPS
The fraudsters used fake documents to submit claims. Pictured is Nikolova

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The fraudsters used fake documents to submit claims. Pictured is NikolovaCredit: CPS
Gyunesh Ali was filmed chucking cash

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Gyunesh Ali was filmed chucking cashCredit: CPS
Stoyan Stoyanov has been jailed for his part in the scam

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Stoyan Stoyanov has been jailed for his part in the scamCredit: CPS