A Polish gang who trafficked more than 200 people to the UK as part of a multi-million pound benefit fraud has been smashed following a joint investigation by the Metropolitan Police, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Polish police.
The gang, based in Poland, promised at least 230 victims – many of whom had alcohol or mental health problems – work in the UK. They trafficked the victims into the country, had them stay in various addresses and tricked them into signing papers to open bank accounts.
The criminals then fraudulently applied for Tax Credit and other benefits using the victim’s details and got the money paid into the newly created accounts.
The money was emptied from the accounts by gang members and sent back to the ringleaders in Poland while the trafficked victims were left destitute.
It is believed the scam has cost the UK more than £2million.
The two-year operation, initiated by the Posen Appeals Prosecution Office in Poland, has culminated on Wednesday in 29 people being arrested in Poland and five addresses searched in London, resulting in two arrests. Searches were also carried out in Birmingham.
“These vulnerable victims were trafficked here to be exploited and satisfy the greed of these criminals. They were brought here under the impression they were getting a job but were left with nothing, with many ending up on the street," said Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, from SCD9.
During this operation, HMRC investigated over 230 Tax Credit awards with a value in excess of £2,000,000.
“Tax Credits are designed to help lower income families and individuals," said Assistant Director John Pointing, from HMRC Criminal Investigation London. "HMRC treats criminal attacks on all its systems very seriously and works constantly with our law enforcement partners, here and abroad, to detect, investigate and prosecute offenders."
Police Major Monika Sokolowska from the Central Unit for Trafficking in Human Beings, in Poland, said “This form of trafficking is a new phenomenon in Poland at this present moment. In the past we were used to dealing with cases where people were trafficked for prostitution or for slavery but this new form of trafficking is becoming ever more prevalent.
“This is a big case for us with over 200 statements taken from vulnerable witness who were exploited. These people were trafficked to the UK by criminals and did not receive any of the social benefits that were fraudulently claimed in their name. This has been an ongoing case working with officers from the MPS and other partner agencies, and much has been achieved today because of the partnership work involved.”
Most of the victims are now back in Poland and have been supported by the Polish authorities.