By Claire Duffin , and Robert Mendick. Her sister Iveta sits behind the wheel while a man in the passenger seat flicks a v-sign to the photographer. It is an expensive car for sisters from the Czech Republic who, to outsiders, earned a living working in a factory. Last week, Iveta and Magdalena Ferkova and three members of their gang were convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud after a five-day trial at Nottingham Crown Court.
The EU mandarin fighting for migrant payouts. Rachel Reeves toughs it out. Actor used his stage name to commit benefit fraud. Magdalena, 33, disappeared half way through the trial and was found guilty in her absence; a warrant has been issued for her arrest. They are all now awaiting sentence. Today The Sunday Telegraph can piece together the full story of how the gang pulled off the scam over more than two years.
It is so simple, you might say, that a child could carry it out. Ziga and Magdalena Ferkova hit upon the fraud after moving to Nottingham from their native Czech Republic in Magdalena Ferkova and Julius Ziga. The couple lived in a modest, two-bedroom semi-detached house in a run-down street in St Anns, an impoverished suburb of the city. The pair drafted in other family members to assist. In the gang Iveta Ferkova, 32, rented her own house and Lacko and Lackova lived nearby in a home opposite the local police station.
The scam began with a promise to find low-paid jobs in Britain for unemployed people back in the Czech Republic and neighbouring Slovakia.
Through word of mouth and family contacts, arrangements were put in place to bring the migrants to the UK by either car or plane, luring them with the promise of work. Neighbours said they were not suspicious but simply thought the Ferkovas had a large and loving family who frequently visited. Once in the country, the gang took the new arrivals first to the local Jobcentre for an interview, where they produced either an identity card, birth certificate or driving licence, necessary for obtaining a National Insurance number.
The next step was to set up bank accounts, controlled by the gang, for each of the visitors. They would then accompany the migrants to the local HM Revenue and Customs HMRC tax office in Nottingham where the gang, posing as interpreters, helped them submit false claims for child tax credits and child benefits. Child tax credits are paid to anyone caring for a child under the age of 16 and who is either unemployed or working up to 25 hours a week.
Most of the migrants did not actually have children. The scam was almost complete. The migrants were then informed by the gang that there was no work available. They were taken back to the airport, put on a plane and sent home. The gang, however, kept claiming the benefits and Ziga and the Ferkovas enjoyed the rewards of their scam. In total, they set up at least such bank accounts to receive cash from 77 false tax credit claims. They wrote down a list of cash card pin numbers and devised a diary to organise their days for drawing out money from certain accounts.
According to HMRC, the gang spent their money on expensive cars and gambling in casinos around the country. Ziga, who has dual Czech and Slovakian nationality, is pictured on his Facebook page wearing gold jewellery and standing by a BMW. Magdalena too wore a lot of gold jewellery.
Her Facebook profile boasts she is now resident in Las Vegas. The gang also dealt in a sideline in scrap metal, and the front drive of one of the houses would be piled high with washing machines, fridges, old bikes and cables. They used to make such a mess, I have collected a bucket full of nails and screws from the road and my girlfriend had to have a new tyre after she drove over a nail. Neighbours of Alena Lackova and Jan Lacko recall seeing them down at the local betting shop where they played the roulette gaming computer, gambling large sums.
The gang was finally caught after tax officials became suspicious that so many claims for benefits were being made from just three addresses.
Ziga pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation at an earlier court hearing and the rest of the gang were found guilty of the same charge last week after a trial. They will be sentenced on November 4 and eventually deported. If they are doing so, they have largely gone undetected with none others prosecuted by HMRC this year.
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