A fraudulent scheme linked with David Kezerashvili, the wanted former Defence Minister of Georgia in the United National Movement Government, by an investigation of the British Broadcasting Company has cost at least 33,000 victims in Europe an estimated €89 million, Eurojust said on Thursday.
The European Union agency for criminal justice cooperation said it had coordinated raids along with Europol last month at the request of the German authorities, with five suspects arrested and 15 locations searched in Bulgaria, Romania, Israel and Georgia, in follow-up to actions against the online scam in 2021 and 2022.
The operation in Georgia was headed by the Prosecutor General’s Office and saw 400 law enforcement officers involved, the domestic body said on Thursday.
Eurojust said the criminal network behind the fraud had attracted investors with professional-looking banners on websites, publicity via social media and fraudulent call centre operations in various European countries.
It said the scammers encouraged their victims to initially make small investments of between €200 and €250, presenting prospects of high profits via fake graphics and software to them.
Victims were then contacted by the so-called personal financial advisors who promised even higher returns on bigger investments. These investments were subsequently lost, and the illegal profits paid into the perpetrators’ bank accounts, the EU agency said.
It also added the specific scheme allegedly ran between 2019 and 2021, with suspects in the operations or their associates subsequently setting up “call centres” in Bulgaria and Romania.
Eurojust said the latest raids had seen a range of high-value assets seized, including luxury watches, electronic equipment, cash, bitcoins, bank cards and numerous documents and data carriers from suspects.
In its investigative report published on Tuesday, BBC said the Panama Papers - the 11.5 million documents leaked in 2016 to show financial dealings of wealthy individuals and officials across the world - had shown Kezerashvili to be at the centre of the fraudulent scheme.
The former official rejected the allegation earlier this week and announced legal action against BBC to “restore” his reputation and “prove inaccuracies” in the investigative piece.
Kezerashvili is wanted in Georgia for embezzlement of state funds during his time in office between 2006-2008, with the Tbilisi Court of Appeals last month upholding the City Court verdict on the case and ordering him to pay €5,060,000 in compensation to the Ministry of Defence.