Economic crime gardaí believe they are very close to finally dismantling the Irish branch of a sophisticated multi-national fraud gang.
The gang, which is primarily made up of criminals from Nigeria and other areas of west Africa, consists of three elements spanning many countries.
One branch runs what one source called a “bewildering array” of financial scams on the European continent while another launders the gains through Irish bank accounts. A third branch, based in Nigeria, draws the money down there.
Gardaí from the National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) believe the gang laundered €14.6 million in stolen money through Irish accounts over a two-year period between 2015 and 2017.
On Monday GNECB officers arrested a man and a woman, both aged in their late 20s, as part of the investigation. The male is believed to be one of the leaders of the gang in Ireland.
They were the sixth and seventh arrests under what the gardaí have termed Operation Joggle, set up around two years ago specifically to target the gang.
A small number of gang members have still to be arrested and interviewed but gardaí are confident they will soon be able to send a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions and begin to bring major cases before the courts.
The man is currently being interviewed at Dundalk Garda Station where he can be held for a maximum of seven days. The woman, who is also at Dundalk Garda station, can be questioned for up to 24 hours.
“These arrests are part of Operation Joggle which is an ongoing investigation into a West African Organised Crime Gang (OCG) that is suspected of being involved in trade-based money laundering to the estimated value of €14.6 million over a two year period,” the Garda said in a statement.
The gang has engaged in “all kinds of every fraud, right throughout Europe”, a source said. This included invoice redirection frauds where business are tricked into sending payments to fake suppliers and CEO frauds, where scammers trick employees into handing over data or funds by pretending to be their managers.
The gang has also engaged in widespread romance frauds – soliciting money from people on dating sites – and has set up multiple bogus websites fraudulently claiming to sell products or services.
“The majority, if not all, of these offences involved victims from outside of Ireland,” a source said. “It was a huge operation.”
The defrauded money was then laundered through Irish bank accounts by members of the gang who live here. In some cases money mules were used to launder the cash through their own accounts.
The gang used young people of various nationalities as money mules. They paid them small amounts of money to put the stolen cash through their accounts before transferring it on again. The money is then typically moved using wire transfers to west Africa.
Earlier this year one eastern European man was arrested for allowing his account to be used by the gang.
Operation Joggle has led to searches of at least 17 premises in recent years in counties Dublin, Louth, Meath, Kildare and Laois. These searches, some of which were supported by the Armed Support Unit, uncovered significant quantities of documents and electronic evidence consistent with money laundering activity.