Sixteen people were arrested in Govanhill today as a result of a multi-agency operation led by Police Scotland targeting a crime gang responsible for around £4.6million of benefit fraud.
Of the 16 arrests, 14 were arrested on suspicion of offences ranging from benefit fraud, mortgage fraud to money laundering and involvement in organised crime. One woman was arrested on warrant and another was arrested in connection with a cannabis cultivation.
In one of the biggest operations of its kind in Police Scotland’s history, nearly 100 officers from local and national units, working with officers from partner agencies including Department for Work and Pensions, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Immigration Enforcement, took action at locations across the Govanhill area.
In total, 37 premises were attended and a number searched, including a business in Govanhill from which officers have seized over 200 productions including documentation and electronic devices.
Police attended a number of addresses intending to speak to residents claiming housing benefit. Several of the premises had clearly been empty for a prolonged period.
A vehicle identified as being used as a mobile office was searched and further fraudulent documentation has been seized.
A cannabis cultivation discovered during the operation included several hundred plants with a potential street value of approximately £200,000.
Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald, Crime and Protection lead for Police Scotland, said, “Today’s operation is one of the largest of its kind carried out by Police Scotland. It targeted a group believed to be responsible for attacking the UK benefit system on an industrial scale with around £4.6million of fraudulent benefit claims.
“This gang has been operating in and around Govanhill using local premises and a mobile office to carry out a variety of crimes, which are undoubtedly impacting on the local community. People have been claiming benefits to which they are not entitled and using false IDs but this activity has been orchestrated by individuals who are reaping millions of pounds from the benefits system while also claiming benefits themselves.
“We have taken and are taking every opportunity to identify, tackle and disrupt further criminality and to put a stop to it. Criminals who defraud and exploit don’t care about their victims or the impact on their communities. “Today’s action sends a clear message of reassurance that we are tackling local criminality and that we will continue to work, locally and nationally, and with partner agencies to disrupt any future criminal activity.
“Communities play a huge part in the fight against crime in their local areas. Govanhill has strong community links and we work closely with these groups, we listen to what they tell us and we take action to tackle criminality in the area. We fully expect there will be more arrests as a result of this operation over the coming weeks and months.”
Around £1.5million worth of fraudulent benefit claims have already been stopped and this work will continue. This action is part of an ongoing investigation which will continue using the documents and devices seized today.
Bob Gallacher, Senior Investigations Leader, DWP, said, “While the focus of this action was in Glasgow, we are aware that this type of criminality is occurring in cities throughout the UK. DWP and partner agencies are extremely grateful for the massive help and support we have received from Police Scotland to help tackle this serious and organised abuse of the welfare payments system. Our strategy is to prevent, disrupt and where appropriate prosecute organised criminals involved in exploiting the benefits systems.”
Joe Hendry, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said, “This is suspected benefit fraud on a massive scale. Benefit fraud is theft – it takes taxpayers’ money from our vital public services and puts it into the pockets of criminals. We will continue working with our partners to investigate and stop these offences. Anyone with information can call the HMRC Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Today’s action was the latest step in a nearly year-long investigation which began with DWP. It was brought to the attention of partner agencies at the Scottish Crime Campus late last year and today’s executive action was the result of several months of multi-agency planning involving DWP, Police Scotland, HMRC and Immigration Enforcement