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Five Arrested in Alleged International Fraud Scheme

The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office and Interior Ministry have arrested five suspected members of a transnational organized crime group, allegedly involved in a so-called “call center scam” that defrauded citizens in Germany and other European countries. 

The Prosecution said today the scammers had set up a call center via several enterprises established in Georgia, and would telephone people abroad to lure them into fictitious lucrative deals in the e-commerce of bonds, stocks, commodity assets, currencies and cryptocurrencies on fake trade platforms. 

According to the authorities, the detainees then transferred the victims’ money to their international group’s bank accounts, with some of the finances funneled to the detainees’ company accounts in Georgia after transfers for laundering.

The Prosecutor’s Office said the suspects laundered income worth tens of million GEL. (1 USD = GEL 3.0008).

The detainees are facing charges of fraud and money laundering under Articles 180 and 194 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, envisaging a prison sentence of nine to twelve years.

The prosecution did not specify the detainees’ nationality.

As of today, the authorities have apprehended, in total, 18 persons within an ongoing probe into the call center schemes, according to the Prosecutor’s Office data. 17 are facing proceedings in Georgia while one awaits extradition. Apart from today’s operation, law enforcement officers arrested six of the suspects on February 3, and seven on October 21, 2021.

In the probe, the Prosecutor’s Office said Georgia is collaborating with German and Israeli authorities as well as Eurojust, the EU agency for criminal justice cooperation. In addition to those detained in the country, the prosecution said criminal proceedings have been launched abroad against other foreign nationals involved in the crime, including its organizers.

GD and UNM Trade Accusations over Call Center Ploy

The call center scheme has found a political twist in Georgia with the ruling Georgian Dream and its arch-rival United National Movement accusing each other’s affiliates of masterminding the ploy. 

MP Levan Khabeishvili of the UNM has on several occasions pointed an accusatory finger at Grigol Liluashvili, head of the State Security Service of Georgia, for protecting and profiting from the alleged international scam alongside Ucha Mamatsashvili, a relative of GD founder billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. 

He claimed in a February 14 briefing that the GD used the revenues to bribe “muscle and provocateurs” for the pre-election period and voting days.

Also on February 14, in a government meeting, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili shot back by accusing former UNM officials of running the ploy, going on to argue the opposition party was trying to “shift the blame onto others to seek revenge because the state has uncovered their criminal schemes.”

He tasked Finance Minister Lasha Khutsishvili to create a working group including investigators to study the activities of the so-called call centers.

Meanwhile, MP Irakli Kobakhidze on February 17 dubbed the opposition’s accusations as a “counteroffensive for defense,” and went on to hint that the person behind the alleged scheme is UMN-era Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, the majority shareholder of government-critical Formula TV.

Noteworthy, SSG chief Liluashvili, who has denied the UNM’s accusations, responded on February 10 by suing MP Khabeishvili and government-critical networks, Mtavari Arkhi and Formula TV, for defamation.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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