Three members of an Eastern European family who flew ‘benefit tourists’ into the UK to illegally claim £750,000 in tax credits were jailed today.
Julius Ziga, 34, his then partner Magdalena Ferkova, 33, her sister Iveta, 32, their aunt Alena Lackova, 39, and her husband Jan Lacko, 39, ran a two-year scam swindling the tax credits system.
They brought friends and family from Slovakia and the Czech Republic to Nottingham to make benefit claims, then continued to collect the cash after the claimants returned home.
Between January 2008 and April 14, 2010, the four pocketed up to £33,000 a week, using the cash to gamble in casinos as well as splash out on luxury cars, including a Mercedes and BMW 5 series.
Nottingham Crown Court heard the gang managed around 50 false claims to steal £750,000 in tax credits from HMRC – and would have gone on to steal a further £500,000 had they not been caught.
Ziga, Lacko and Iveta Ferkova were all jailed at Nottingham Crown Court today for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation. Lackova was handed a suspended sentence on the same charge.
Magdalena Ferkova was not sentenced today with the court told she has fled the country in an effort to escape punishment. An international arrest warrant has been issued.
The court heard Nottingham-based gang, who are originally from the Czech Republic, flew or drove people into the UK and helped them to claim tax credits.
Ziga and his then partner Magdalena Ferkova led the fraud, with Ziga at times driving to Eastern Europe to bring foreigners into the country via the Channel Tunnel.
Others were flown into the country by Ziga to live at 14 addresses across Nottingham.
They arranged housing and National Insurance numbers and posed as interpreters for the workers during interviews in banks and at job centres.
After applications for tax credits were made, the claimants were then sent back to their home countries while the money was paid into bank accounts controlled by the gang.
Sisters Magdalena Ferkova, 33, and Iveta Ferkova, 32; Jan Lacko, 39, and Alena Lackova, 39, all from Nottingham, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation following a trial at Nottingham Crown Court.
Julius Ziga, 34, also of Nottingham, pleaded guilty to the same charge at an earlier hearing.
Sentencing three members of the gang to jail for a total of 12 years, Judge James Sampson told them: ‘You have all been convicted of conspiracy to defraud the HMRC.
‘Beginning in 2008 you four, together with Magdalena Ferkova and others, in effect used by you, stole approximately £750,000 in tax credits by making and managing some 50 or so false claims.
‘You are all related and you are all from the Czech Republic. You cynically, greedily and dishonestly exploited the tax credit system by bringing to this country friends and family.
‘With the connivance of these people who supplied their passports and birth certificates for their children you claimed tax credits in their names.
‘They were then transported back while you managed their claims and bank accounts in their names. You kept most of the money for yourselves, sending some, a very limited amount, back to those claimants.’
The judge added: ‘This was fraudulent from the outset. It was well organised and the sums obtained were considerable.’
Prosecutor Luke Blackburn told the court the fraud was uncovered ‘by chance’ when a boarder agency staff stopped Ziga at random before he got on a Channel Tunnel train to Europe.
He added: ‘When his phone was analysed they found texts welcoming him to France and Germany and in a Lidl bag found at an address was documents relating to flights and trips to Europe.
‘In that bag were many original documents, passports and forms relating to benefit claims.
‘Ziga’s fingerprints were found on that bag and several articles in the bag.
‘The close to the public purse is huge. The proceeds have all gone, either out of the country or gambled’ Luke Blackburn, prosecutor
‘The Crown can never know exactly how much money was gambled away in cash.
‘But we can say that both Magdalena Ferkova and Iveta Ferkova had active gambling habits.
‘Some of the money was used with casino accounts, but we can never know how much was gambled in cash at the casinos.
‘When HMRC investigated the 14 addresses they found a total of 66 claims, 48 were still outstanding, of which only four were found to be true claims.
‘This was a complex fraud, carried out by a professional organisation dealing with the movement of people on and international scale.
‘The close to the public purse is huge. The proceeds have all gone, either out of the country or gambled.’
Ziga was jailed for four years while Iveta Ferkova was handed a five-year sentence. Lacko was jailed for three years while his wife Lackova was given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years.
The judge ordered that those going to prison will be deported when they are released after serving half of their sentence.
As the foursome were jailed family members who had packed the public gallery stormed out of the court room.
Gary Lampon, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said after the case : ‘This gang was extremely well organised and ruthless in their ambition to steal vast amounts of public money at the expense of the British taxpayer.
‘They exploited the many individuals they lured to the UK from abroad with the promise of legal employment, but then manipulated and discarded them.’
Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It’s deeply worrying that our soft-touch welfare system was so easily exploited by criminals.’
A proceeds of crime hearing to determine what assets should be seized from the gang will be held at a later date.
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