Gardaí have discovered evidence that Covid-19 payments are being abused by Dublin-based fraudsters involved in money laundering as a part of a wider European network of criminals.
Two men have been arrested as part of a Garda inquiry into “money-mule” bank accounts. This is the use by criminals of third party, or bogus bank accounts, to conceal and launder money.
During the latest stage of the operation the duo were arrested when two properties were searched in Dublin 15. At both addresses evidence was found showing six people were claiming Covid-19 employment assistance payments, though they were not entitled to do so.
While the investigation relates to other, more serious, crime the Covid-19 payments have been stopped and were now being examined by the Garda.
The two arrests on Thursday formed part of an ongoing Garda inquiry during which 15 arrests have been made and 130 suspects identified.
The Irish-based organised crime gang using the mule accounts has recruited and paid people, sometimes cash-strapped students, in exchange for access to their bank accounts. The fraudsters, who are primarily engaged in online frauds, use the accounts to receive money. By doing so they frustrate Garda efforts to link them to online crime and are also aided in concealing, laundering and moving the proceeds of crime.
The investigation resulting in the latest two arrests in Ireland has established that at least 70 of 130 suspects have opened bank accounts using false names or acting as money mules.
Almost €6 million has been laundered through accounts in Ireland.
Other members of the same criminal gang are under investigation in Germany, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Poland and the UK.
Who laundered €22m?
It is estimated the international network has laundered at least €22 million across the European Union over the past five years.
The money is the proceeds of selling non-existent goods online, targeting companies with false invoices, scams targeting pin numbers of bank cards and other cybercrimes. Thursday’s searches in Dublin were carried out by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau assisted by officers attached to the Special Investigations Unit of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Garda Dog Unit.
“During the searches gardaí seized false passports, fake personal ID, cash in excess of €10,000, account books and other financial documentation,” said gardaí. The arrested suspects, both in their 30s, have been taken for questioning to Blanchardstown and Ballymun Garda stations in Dublin.