A fraud gang who posed as bank employees to steal £113m from small businesses to spend on luxury goods have been sentenced to 21 years in prison. The sophisticated criminal operation targeted 750 accountants and solicitors raking in around £1m and £2m per week in the "clever, persistent and pitiless" operation.
The Metropolitan Police launched the biggest cyber-surveillance operation of its kind in an attempt to apprehend the gang. The gang stole £2.1m from one firm of solicitors, with several other companies nearly going bankrupt, while one victim later committed suicide.
The gang used money mules to siphon money to accounts in Dubai and Pakistan with £66m still never recovered. The money funded a lavish lifestyle which included the purchase of a Rolls-Royce, a lime green Lamborghini, and Bentleys.
Gang leader Feezan Hameed Choudhary, 23, from Glasgow, even bought a luxury villa in Pakistan and flew in valets from Scotland to polish his Porsche Cayennes based there. The fraudulent scheme involved calling businesses and telling staff they were speaking to fraud investigators persuading them to provide crucial bank account details.
To mask their illegality they displayed fake phone numbers when they called and threw away pre-paid dongles used to arrange the thefts. Choudhary, also known as "Fizzy", was described as "authoritative to the point of being bullying" when speaking to victims by judge Peter Testar, at Southwark Crown Court, who sentenced the gang.
Jailing Choudhary for 11 years, judge Testar said: "Anyone who had heard the calls would have been struck and affected by them. There was a great deal of sophistication in the fraud.
"The people behind the fraud would have need to have an understanding of bank systems. The people involved seem to be able to take control of telephone lines of business so as to shut them out of the banks," according to Sky News.
Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Gould said after the sentencing: "When they were at their height - when they'd really got the hang of this - they were probably making one to two million quid a week. It was a Monday to Friday, nine-to-five operation, and when they were busy and active they were just smashing victims all day, every day, running their criminal business like a proper business."
In addition to Choudhary, Abdul Iqbal, 23, of Edinburgh, and Syed Ali Amish, 24, of Luton were sentenced to 21 months and 32 months respectively for conspiracy to launder money.
Meanwhile Mohammed Mehtab, 35, of Watford, was given an eight-month suspended prison sentence for conspiracy to launder money and Syed Haider, 31, of Slough, and Bilal Ahmed, 26, of Ilford, will be sentenced at a later date after pleading guilty to conspiracy to launder money.