Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Inside Bulgarian city built by £50m UK benefits scam where crooks ‘lived like barons’

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun16,2024

At first glance Sliven appears like a typical Eastern European city with nothing particularly remarkable to boast about.

Bulgaria’s eighth largest city is situated at the foothills of the Balkan Mountains and is the administrative and industrial centre of Sliven Province.

Up until recently the most notable fact about the city was probably its location in a region of Bulgaria renowned for its wine production.

However, the city has now become notorious for its connection to a criminal gang that may have stolen as much as £200 million a year from the British government through fake benefit claims.

Galina Nikolova, 38, and her boyfriend Stoyan Stoyanov, 27, along with Tsvetka Todorova, 52, Gyunesh Ali, 33, and Patritsia Paneva, 26, were arrested on May 5, 2021 in London.

They have all admitted to fraud and money laundering offences dating from between October 2016 and May 2021 and will be sentenced in the coming days.

Their brazen scam was discovered by a detective from Sliven, who became suspicious after he noticed locals walking around in designer clothes and a massive increase in construction sites for new properties.

Vassil Panayotov investigations soon revealed that thousands of residents were getting up to £2,500 a month in benefits from the UK despite many of them never having stepped foot in the country.

The inspector alerted the UK, who went on to identify the five Bulgarian masterminds behind the colossal fraud.

The gangsters are believed to have personally raked in as much as £54 million from their scam.

Mr Panayotov told The Telegraph: “I first became suspicious when I started to see the influx of money into Sliven. I wondered how these people had got such money.

“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 million every year from the UK.”

The inspector claimed the gang had at least 6,000 customers who each paid a one-off commission of between £500 and £800.

They then received on average between £2,000 and £2,500 a month for sixty days. Thereafter the gang took the cash for themselves, and became so rich they started to live like “barons”.

Mr Panayotov said the influx of cash into Sliven transformed the area, as shops and casinos opened, and new properties sprang up.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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