An international organised crime gang has made thousands of euro by fraudulently claiming emergency social welfare payments for people who lose their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Herald has learnt.
Fraud squad detectives uncovered evidence of six separate claims for the €350 payment during raids on two properties in a leafy north Dublin suburb.
Officers from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) raided the two houses yesterday morning in the Laurel Lodge estate in Castleknock and arrested two 37-year-old men.
The properties were being rented by members of a Romanian organised crime gang who have stolen over €22m in the EU in the last four years.
Investigations by the GNECB have established that they have laundered €6m in Irish bank accounts in the last two years.
The gang has made millions of euro from Airbnb scams and other organised frauds by setting up sophisticated fake websites and duping people into buying non-existent goods on genuine websites.
The suspects arrested as part of yesterday's surveillance operation were still being detained last night at Ballymun and Blanchardstown garda stations - they are the 13th and 14th arrests made by detectives in their massive money-laundering investigation against the gang.
The garda dog unit was involved in yesterday's raids and officers found €10,000 in cash as well as seven false passports.
"One of these passports was used to open a bank account in which €50,000 was laundered," a senior source told the Herald.
"One suspect has been arrested under anti-gangland legislation while the other has been arrested for money-laundering offences.
"The suspect arrested for the organised crime offences is basically a gopher for the gang - they use him as a driver and for other duties. The other individual is a more senior member of the organisation."
Detectives have also established that the gang has used six fake identity documents to make false Covid-19 welfare claims in Ireland.
Over 700,000 people have now applied for the Government's €350 Covid-19 unemployment benefit and there is increasing concern among gardai that some foreign nationals are making fraudulent claims.
In a separate investigation, the Department of Social Protection, assisted by officers from the Garda National Immigration Bureau, has launched a major operation to check the details of people leaving Irish airports and ports.
A number of Brazilian nationals were found to be fraudulently attempting to claim the welfare benefit.
Meanwhile officers from the GNECB have played a lead role in the Europe-wide probe into the Romanian crime gang that led to yesterday's arrests.
The gang is being investigated by police in Germany, Holland, the UK, Poland, Croatia, Spain and Finland.
Many of the gang members are from a Romanian city which has been nicknamed 'Hackerville' after over 80 of its inhabitants were arrested as part of an EU crackdown on the mob.
The duo arrested yesterday also have close links to the city, according to senior sources.
The gang at the centre of the probe is suspected of carrying out thousands of organised frauds in other EU countries and then using Irish financial institutions to launder the cash.
"Primarily this gang have been involved in two different types of organised fraud in Europe," a senior source said.
One of the scams has targeted customers of Airbnb and many other accommodation providers all across Europe.
"Customers have been duped into paying money for bogus accommodation.
"In other cases people have been conned into paying huge money for all kinds of items from watches to cars to tractors in the elaborate internet fraud.
"As soon as the cash goes into the gang's bank account, it is removed from it by the criminals.
In January, key gang member Radu Agapie (28) was jailed for four-and-a-half years after he pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Court to five counts of control of fake Polish and Hungarian identification cards, four counts of using fake documentation to open bank accounts and three counts of money laundering.
In February, another gang member, Contantin Dirlescu (31), was jailed for three-and-a-half years after pleading guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to six counts of using false passports to open bank accounts and four counts of operating accounts for money laundering.