‘Living Like Barons’: Foreign Crime Ring Busted After Stealing Over $250 Million In Welfare Benefits: REPORT

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Ilan Hulkower Contributor
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A Bulgarian crime ring was busted after five members confessed to stealing over $60 million in welfare benefits from the British taxpayer, The Telegraph reported Wednesday.

Vassil Panayotov, a Bulgarian policeman, uncovered the vast welfare scam when he launched an investigation into the sudden appearance of wealth in the city of Sliven, the outlet reported. (RELATED: Art Smuggling Bust Uncovers Previously Unknown Jackson Pollock Painting Worth $54 Million: Reports)

The inspector discovered that thousands of persons in the city were receiving up to $3175.50 in benefits a month illicitly from the British government and contacted the country’s embassy about the scam in 2021, The Telegraph reported. “When I received that information I started to check myself and began my own investigation. I eventually concluded that we were talking about maybe £200 [$250] million every year from the UK,” the policeman told The Telegraph.

Panayotov told the outlet that the influx of cash noticeably transformed the city in property development, the appearance of designer clothing and the opening of businesses and casinos.

“There are currently 30 casinos in Sliven. These casinos were mostly built by criminals who have a lot of money. The fraudsters are earning easy money and they spend their money easily, without any plans. They are living like barons,” Panayotov told the outlet.

The Department for Work and Pensions, after being tipped off by the Bulgarian’s information, launched its own investigation and conducted its own raids, the Telegraph reported. Tom Little, the British prosecutor, reportedly commented at the sentencing hearing that there were currently investigations into additional suspects, the outlet reported. Little told the court that those who sought to falsely obtain welfare using real people allegedly turned out to be “nearly always Bulgarian,” the outlet noted. These real people were reportedly “complicit and also gained financially,” he further alleged.

The prosecutor alleged that the Bulgarians managed to fool the British government through obtaining forged documents and that many of them had actually travelled to Great Britain briefly with the aim of bolstering their welfare claims, The Telegraph reported. The gang even reportedly arranged “cheap flights” for the fraudulent welfare claimants to travel to the United Kingdom, the prosecutor further alleged.

“Some never even travelled here,” Little told the court, the outlet reported.

The claimants then paid a one-time commission of the ill-gotten welfare benefit to the gang, Panayotov told The Telegraph. The gang would allegedly begin to siphon off money from the benefits into their own accounts after two months, according to the outlet.