A business meeting in a central square in Rome, a factory property in Sindo, a (non-existent) real estate company based in London, a usb stick with bitcoins, worth 400,000 euros, make up the key pieces of the puzzle of the well-planned fraud, set up against businessman from Thessaloniki and last November he was employed by EL.AS’s Electronic Crime Prosecution.
A couple of young Romanians, who were arrested at the international airport “Macedonia”, before departing on a flight to Paris, were accused of the case, reminiscent of a movie script. However, it is considered certain that the “mastermind” of the fraud remains elusive.
Eleven months later and after successive meetings and negotiations between the legal representatives of the two sides – on one side of the two defendants and on the other side of the businessman – the “final signs” regarding the couple’s criminal involvement were dropped, as an out-of-court settlement was reached, which provides for the compensation of the victim, with the amount of 150,000 euros.
The compromise was sealed in the hall of the Three-member Court of Criminal Appeals of Thessaloniki, where the two Romanians, remanded pending trial and accused of computer fraud and gang, were brought to trial. Having already received – as was told to the audience – the above amount, in cash and through successive bank transfers, the Greek businessman withdrew his complaint regarding the part of the first act, while for the second, which is being prosecuted ex officio, the Court found them not guilty , and were consequently released.
However, the process was almost thrown into the “air”, as the businessman’s side questioned the source of origin of the last remittance, expressing reservations about his possible involvement with the competent Authority for money laundering. The solution was finally given by the Court, which accepted an explicit reference to be made when the decision was written down, that there is no wrongdoing or illegality with the amount of the specific remittance.
The advertisement, the brokerage “company” and “Omar”
The chronicle of the unprecedented case began in March 2021, when the victim published an advertisement on the Internet for the sale of a factory complex in Sindos, for a price of 2 million euros. Some time later he himself received a phone call from abroad informing him of (alleged) interest from a London real estate group in purchasing the property and promoting it to his clientele.
During the same communication, he was suggested to meet a representative of the company in Rome to discuss the business “deal”. The unsuspecting businessman agreed to travel to the Eternal City, where indeed a meeting followed with a person who was introduced to him as a British citizen of Indian origin, named “Omar”, and was in the Italian capital for some other investment, as he told his Greek interlocutor.
The conversation between the two men seemed to create the conditions for the sale to proceed. The interlocutor of the Greek businessman appeared to be a serious professional, presenting development strategies and investment schedules and after explaining that the purchase was to be preceded by an autopsy of the property, he set the brokerage company’s fee at 445,000 dollars (or 400,000 euros, at the then exchange rate), setting but as a condition that this money be delivered in the form of cryptocurrencies.
However, what the owner of the property was unaware of until then, was that from the beginning the purpose of the alleged broker was to extract the commission. What followed was constant communications, email exchanges, document mailings and purchase contracts that would later turn out to be fake.
The gold-bearing “stick” that made… wings
In the meantime, the time for the signing of the preliminary agreement was approaching. The businessman had made all the necessary preparations, establishing a brokerage company and appointing a tax representative – a “complicated process”, as he would later testify -, while he had taken care to convert the commission money into bitcoins by storing them on a USB stick with the codes , inside a folder. However, as the supposed solvency check of the property was pending, an appointment was made for the beginning of November 2021 in Thessaloniki, where two representatives of the brokerage company would arrive.
The 27-year-old Romanian woman arrived at the businessman’s office. “She was in disguise, wearing a wig and blue contact lenses, high heels. She was very comfortable,” the victim described the young woman, testifying in court. “The whole story was about this stick,” he added. Under the guise of checking the usb for the availability of its content, he managed to juggle the cryptocurrency stick with a matching device that was empty.
After confirming that everything was fine, he returned the envelope, greeted the businessman, told him he was going to London, and left the office. A few hours later, the victim discovered the theft of the usb, notified the Electronic Crime Prosecution of Northern Greece and police searches immediately began. The police authorities at the “Macedonia” airport were immediately informed, and they made a “leaf and feather” of all the passenger lists of the flights.
How were the arrests made?
The young woman was eventually spotted at the airport with her 20-year-old boyfriend, having already passed the gate to board the plane. Their movements seem to have aroused the suspicions of the police. As a police officer of the “Macedonia” airport testified, “they had boarded a flight at the last minute and were carrying many bags full of products they bought from the duty-free”. The 27-year-old Romanian – in the meantime – had thrown away her wig, put on a tracksuit and sports shoes. On his way to the airport, as the police investigation revealed, he had made sure to forward the bitcoin codes to the “mastermind” of the fraud.
In her apology for the part of the gang, she stated that she knew nothing about the fraud, adding that she herself was a victim. “Omar called me asking for my help with some problem he was having with a gentleman who owed him money. I agreed to come here. My friend came along so I wouldn’t be alone,” she said, apologizing to the victim. Her words were confirmed by her co-accused in his own apology, while the couple’s lawyer said that the families “sold out” to collect the money agreed as compensation.
With information from APE-MPE
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