Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Nigerian Lead 'Costa del crime' gang convicted

City of London Police investigation into one of the UK’s biggest boiler room frauds has ended with the conviction of nine people.

George Abrue, 30, the mastermind behind the fraud, was jailed for five-years having admitted to orchestrating a £10 million investment con that targeted UK citizens.
“The NFIB can prove to be a huge breakthrough for law enforcement”

Six other members of Abrue’s gang were also jailed at Harrow Crown Court in May, with his main partners, Scott Henderson, 31, and Anton Deach, 25, receiving five-year and four-year prison sentences respectively.

The case can now be reported, after the final two suspects, Abrue’s wife and mother-in-law, were convicted in Newcastle Crown Court today. City of London Police investigated the crime in its role as national lead force for fraud.

Sarah Robson, 28, and Jocelyn Cowper, 57, from Tyne-and-Wear, were found guilty of assisting the mastermind behind the multi-million pound con. They will be sentenced on 12 July 2011.

Originally from Nigeria, Abrue met and married the 18-year-old Robson in Newcastle and from here he started to form his criminal network.
His gang set-up Spanish boiler rooms from where fraudulent brokers used aggressive sales tactics to sell shares in what they claimed were emerging mineral and bio fuel companies about to float on the stock market.

To legitimise the operation, UK phone numbers and company details were acquired and bank accounts created using Abrue’s neighbours’ addresses.

Professional websites and brochures were also produced in Sweden to convince people, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, to part with their savings.

The reality was victims were buying into fictitious companies, with their money being laundered through Swedish and Italian bank accounts to fund a champagne lifestyle for Abrue and his associates.

Parties for up to 300 people were thrown in top Barcelona hotels and a Ferrari, Bentley and Maserati were bought and garaged in Spain.

This boiler room fraud first appeared on the City of London Police’s radar in August 2009, when its National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) was contacted by a stream of people claiming to have lost money after being cold-called.

The NFIB used this intelligence to build a picture of how the boiler room was operating; linking the individual losses to a much larger criminal network operating out of Spain.

City of London Police, which is the National Lead Force for fraud, launched an investigation and quickly uncovered how Abrue was recruiting former colleagues from the telesales industry to work for him.

The men were trained in Malaga and then moved to offices in Majorca, where they operated pressurising people into buying shares in non-existent companies such as Bio Fuel Solutions Corporation and New Power Technology.

Victims were sent ‘bogus’ share certificates, produced in a Sunderland back-street office run by Henderson, to provide evidence of their investments and to encourage them to make further payouts.

Abrue was identified as the head of the organised crime gang, using different aliases to move between Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Detectives also discovered how he began his criminal career inventing false companies for other boiler rooms before deciding the big money was to be made by selling the shares for himself.

In December 2009 the City of London Police led a national operation that saw 11 people arrested in Northumbria and three others in Manchester, Derbyshire and London. On the same day, Abrue was detained in Sweden and several months later extradited back to the UK to be charged.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Clark, from the City of London Police, said:

"George Abrue was a bright and articulate man, but he was also an unscrupulous and callous coward. He showed no sentiment in his crime, and clearly thought nothing of the impact his fraud had on its victims.

“Some of those victims have been suicidal, and the psychological effect on them and their families has been tragic; all so Abrue and his friends could live the lifestyle of a Premier League footballer spending astronomical sums of money.

"Our focus now is to recover every asset we can in an effort to claw back some of the victims' money, work which will continue for the next two years.

Operation Soundwave saw the City of London Police working with Spanish law enforcement and, for the first time on a major investigation, the NFIB.

DCI Clark added:

"This case shows how the NFIB can prove to be a huge breakthrough for law enforcement. The linking together of this case by the Bureau turned a three-year investigation into six-months work.

“Transfer that to the number of possible victims who could have lost money during a longer investigation, and the potential value of the NFIB is clear."

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