'Boiler Room Fraud' Smashed In Police Raids
Suspected fraudsters who led extravagant lifestyles like Leonardo DiCaprio's character in hit film The Wolf Of Wall Street by conning victims out of millions of pounds have been targeted in an international clampdown.
Police swooped in a series of raids stretching from London and Barcelona to the US and Serbia in a move to smash the so-called boiler room fraud, where investors are duped into buying worthless or non-existent shares.
A total of 110 alleged†fraudsters were held in what was one of the biggest anti-fraud operations ever staged.
To date, 850 British victims, many of them pensioners and one of whom killed themselves after being defrauded, have been identified.
They lost a total of around £15m - ranging from between £2,000 and†£500,000 per person - but police believe this figure is only "the tip of the iceberg" and suspect thousands more people may have been duped.
The operation, which was two years in the making, saw 40 officers from City of London Police join 300 of their Spanish counterparts from the Policia Nacional to target a number of organised crime gangs.
It aimed to take out criminal kingpins, as well as scores of conmen who work for them, including lawyers, money launderers and financiers.
The alleged†fraudsters spent their ill-gotten gains on sports cars, designer watches, drugs and prostitutes.
One of the suspects was believed to have been paying £40,000 per month to rent an apartment.
An Aston Martin and Ferrari were among the cars seized by police, along with various watches and £500,000 in cash.
The raids took place earlier this week, but can only now be revealed after a reporting ban was lifted by a Spanish judge.
Speaking near the site of one of the searches in Barcelona on Tuesday, City of London Police Commander Steve Head said: "You see real victims in real communities whose lives have been devastated. Savings that they thought they could rely on in their old age have gone in a heartbeat."
He added: "These people have no conscience in terms of what they do to people's lives. This is not at all a victimless crime. We've seen lives that have been utterly devastated.
"We have dismantled an international network of fraudsters. Make no mistake, this will make a difference to the ability of fraudsters to operate at this level.
"This network has been dismantled, hopefully we have sent a message to those who think that it's an easy crime that it doesn't matter where you are, we will come after you."
In total, the international team executed 35 warrants on offices from where the fraud is said to have been run, as well as the alleged criminals' luxury homes.
The operation closed down 14 boiler rooms in Spain, two in the UK and one in Serbia.
As well as the fraud, the gangs were also allegedly involved in drug dealing, money laundering and gun crime.
Most of the suspects targeted are British and a main group is expected to be extradited back to the UK to face trial.
Commissioner Jose Luis Andre Vega from the Spanish national police, said: "This sort of crime knows no frontiers or boundaries. It's important to investigate this sort of organised crime on an international level."
Of the 110 arrests, there were 84 in Spain, 20 in the UK, two in the United States and four in Serbia, with most of the suspects arrested on suspicion of money laundering and fraud offences.
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