Watches, cars and villas seized in cross-border fraud raids | #ukscams | #datingscams | #european


Police across Europe have seized luxury flats, villas, Rolex watches and sports cars in raids on an alleged criminal network.

Some 22 arrests were made on Thursday after officers swooped in Italy, Austria, Romania and Slovakia.

Eight suspects have been detained, while 14 were placed under house arrest.

The group is suspected of embezzling €600m (£515m) from an Italian Covid recovery fund between 2021 and 2023.

The raids were carried out as part of a large-scale international investigation led by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Venice.

Officers worked with police forces across Europe to carry out dozens of raids and recover millions in assets.

Italy’s financial police says officers seized flats, villas, Rolex watches, Cartier jewellery, gold and cryptocurrencies during the raids.

They also seized luxury cars, including a Lamborghini Urus, a Porsche Panamera and an Audi Q8.

Image caption, Luxury watches were among the assets seized in Thursday’s raids

The EPPO says a group of criminals set up fake companies in order to secure millions in grants from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) for Italy.

Between 2021 and 2023, they filed fake corporate balance sheets to show that their businesses qualified for the funding.

In fact, the companies were “only created to defraud the European taxpayer”, according to deputy European chief prosecutor Andrés Ritter.

The alleged criminal organisation is suspected of using “advanced technologies” to aid its activities, including virtual private networks, foreign cloud servers and artificial intelligence software, an EPPO report says.

When the suspects received the funds in Italy, they transferred them to bank accounts in Austria, Romania and Slovakia.

A network of accountants, service providers and public notaries allegedly supported the suspects. One accountant has been barred from practising as a result of the investigation.

Image caption, Italy’s financial police seized assets worth more than €600m (£514.4m) in raids across Europe on Thursday

The EU’s RRF was set up in 2021 to disburse €723.8bn (£620.6bn) across the bloc after the Covid pandemic disrupted businesses worldwide. Italy is the largest single recipient of the fund.

The EPPO has 1,927 investigations in progress, involving suspected fraud worth €19.2bn (£16.5bn), according to its 2023 annual report.

By the end of last year, some 206 of these investigations were into fraud relating to the EU’s post-Covid funding projects.



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