By Tom Powell
A BRITISH graduate has been arrested in Europe’s biggest ever anti-fraud operation.
The expat, in his early forties, is one of the ringleaders of a gang who defrauded thousands of victims around the world.
The lynchpin, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is one of the 84 people, mostly Britons, who were arrested in boiler rooms around Spain. A further 26 were detained in the UK, Florida and Serbia.
Police shut down an incredible 17 boiler rooms – so called because of the cramped conditions the con artists operate out of.
In the series of coordinated raids – undertaken by 300 police officers from the UK and Spain – a huge stash of guns, cash and expensive jewellery was seized.
Dubbed ‘Operation Rico’, the joint operation between City of London Police and Spain’s national force targeted top level bosses in an attempt to ‘decimate’ criminal rings after two years of planning.
In several large scale raids in Marbella, police seized cars including an Aston Martin DB convertible, a Ford Mustang and a Ferrari Spyder. Detectives also found designer watches, jewellery and bundles of notes worth €550,000.
In one rented Puerto Banus home, allegedly costing €40,000 a month, police seized a photo of the conman’s €965 Christian Louboutin slippers, with two diamond encrusted watches strapped to them.
So far around 13 of those arrested in Spain have been bailed – one for €10,000 – while 11 of the ‘more senior staff’ are being held in prison.
Most of those arrested were held on suspicion of money laundering and fraud offences, specifically where investors are tricked into buying shares that are either worthless or non-existent.
The alleged ringleader, who studied English Literature at university in the 1990s, has been refused bail. Staff at his office told the Olive Press this week that he had not been seen since last week and they could ‘not confirm’ if he would ‘ever be coming back’.
They evaded all further questions, apart from saying ‘you should talk to his lawyer’. However, they refused to give a number and the mobile number offered has also been constantly switched off.
While the firm is listed as a member of the British Chamber of Commerce, according to a spokesman he has not attended any meetings since 2012.
Intriguingly one of the company’s websites was closed down yesterday, while it emerges that its Twitter acount is a ‘follower’ of Nigel Goldman, Marbella’s very own infamous conman. The boiler rooms were based mainly in Barcelona, Madrid and Marbella.
In the UK alone there are 850 confirmed victims, but detectives estimate the overall figure is likely to be ‘multi-thousands’.
Police say victims, mostly in their 70s and 80s, have lost sums ranging from €2,000 to €500,000 and some have even committed suicide as a consequence.
The gangs work by cold-calling victims and persuading them to part with their money through aggressive sales techniques and confidence tricks.
Vulnerable people are offered returns of 10 to 20% per year, directed to authentic-looking websites and glossy brochures and asked to invest in bonds in well-known firms or officially registered companies.
Initially, they may receive ‘dividends’ to give them confidence their investment is paying off but after that they never receive any of their money back.
This was certainly the case with the recent collapse of a network set up and run by Nigel Goldman, as exposed by the Olive Press.
The victims of Goldman’s schemes, so far numbering dozens, lost at least €3million.
Each boiler room network is believed to have an accountant, money launderer and lawyer, as well as a ‘sales’ team often comprising of English-speaking university students.
Most of the team find their jobs via local English language newspapers. City of London Police Commander Steve Head said: “In terms of economic crime and fraud this is one of the biggest operations there has ever been.
“We’ve seen millions of pounds taken from people. You see real victims in real communities whose lives have been devastated. Savings that they thought they could rely on in their old age have gone in a heartbeat.”
Derek Langley, chairman of the chamber of commerce in Andalucia, added: “They hide behind genuine companies and use multiple aliases, making it very hard to find out who is who.”A spokesperson for the City of London Police last night said they could not confirm any names until formal charges are made.