By Gangsters Inc. Editors
A French-Israeli criminal gang involved in large-scale CEO fraud was busted last month, Europol reported. The group targeted companies located in France and made off with tens of millions.
In early December 2021, one of the suspects impersonated the CEO of a company specialized in metallurgy, based in the department of Haute-Marne in north-eastern France. The fraudster asked the company’s accountant to make an urgent and confidential transfer of €300,000 to a bank in Hungary.
The fraud was discovered a few days later when the accountant, thinking he was acting on behalf of the company’s CEO, attempted to make a transfer of €500,000. The company filed a complaint, and the investigators subsequently found that the call from the alleged CEO came from a number in Israel.
€38 million up in smoke
In late December 2021, a real estate developer based in Paris also felt victim to fraud with a similar modus operandi. The damages were much more significant in this case, however. To perpetrate the fraud, the suspects impersonated lawyers, saying they worked for a well-known French accounting company.
After gaining the victim’s trust, the fraudster requested a large, urgent and confidential transfer. Pretending to be consultants, they persuaded the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to transfer millions of euros abroad. In total, they defrauded the company of almost €38 million in a matter of days. Using a pre-existing money laundering scheme, these funds were quickly transferred to different European countries, then to China and finally to Israel.
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A link between these two scams was established in January 2022 when the Parisian real estate company filed a complaint. The information exchange and international cooperation facilitated by Europol led to the discovery of accomplices, modi operandi and funds. The criminal investigation in Croatia contributed to the discovery of the real identity of the money mules used by the criminal network. The competent authorities in Croatia blocked and froze over €600,000 in several bank accounts. The Portuguese investigation led to the seizure of approximately €3 million held in multiple bank accounts. The Hungarian authorities discovered that more than €7 million had been received in Hungarian bank accounts before being withdrawn in cash or transferred to bank accounts in other countries. The Hungarian authorities interrogated 16 individuals, two of whom had been arrested previously and are currently under criminal supervision. They seized more than €1 million in several bank accounts.
Multiple agencies involved
The operation, led by France, involved the Croatian National Police (Hrvatska Policija), the Croatian Anti Money Laundering Office (Ured za sprječavanje pranja novca), the French National Police (Police Nationale), the French Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale), the Hungarian Budapest Metropolitan Police (Budapesti Rendőr-főkapitányság), the Israel Police (משטרת ישראל), the Portuguese Judicial Police (Policia Judiciaria) and the Spanish National Police (Policía National).
The operational activities resulted in five action days, which took place between January 2022 and January 2023 in France and Israel, resulted in 8 arrests (6 in France, 2 in Israel, among them the leader).
Authorities seized electronic equipment and vehicles, about €3 million euro from Portuguese bank accounts, €1.1 million from Hungarian bank accounts, €600,000 from Croatian bank accounts, €400,000 from Spanish bank accounts, and €350,000 in virtual currencies.
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