Widespread benefit fraud among career criminals

Thirteen career criminals have been reported to the police for serious benefit fraud as the social insurance agency continues its hunt to tackle widespread abuse of the system among criminal gangs.

A special unit was set up by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) in the summer to target professional criminals in receipt of benefits.

Since September at least 24 people connected to criminal gangs have received letters from the agency questioning their rights to benefits and demanding repayment of sums approaching six-seven million kronor ($710,000), according to a report in Dagens Nyheter (DN).

So far 13 of the known criminals have been reported to the police on suspicion of benefit fraud.

The most common abuse of the system is within sickness benefits. Several of those reported to police have been found to have reported fictitious employer details, incomes and vague references.

“This is an important part of our work with suspected offences. We are not talking about large sums of money, but it concerns the legitimacy of the social insurance system,” said the agency’s director-general Curt Malmborg to DN.

Among those reported to police include a 64-year-old Hells Angels member in Stockholm who owes over 200,000 kronor, a 31-year-old neo-Nazi leader who owes over 60,000 kronor and 37-year-old convicted criminal and former restaurant owner who owes over one million kronor for fraudulent sickness benefit claims.

Individuals connected to criminal gangs present a tough opponent for authorities trying to combat benefit fraud. They often have the resources to employ efficient legal counsel and the process can therefore become drawn out.

The agency’s special unit is reported by DN to have a heavy workload with at least a hundred further cases waiting to be considered.


Swedish mafia’s trademark cannot be rebuilt: police

Upon news that a man suspected as an accessory to a high-profile double murder in Södertälje was allowed to leave custody on Monday, the local community said a potential breakdown of the mafia trial would be "the beginning of a catastrophe".

Swedish mafia's trademark cannot be rebuilt: police

The release from custody of the 40-year-old does not, however, worry local law enforcers, although it remains possible that the verdict downgrades the accessory to murder charge.

Overall, the police said they were not worried that the case, which had to redone after a lay judge was found to be potentially biased in the first run last year, would crumble.

“On the contrary, there is more evidence this time around and it has

been worked through a second time for the retrial,” said Gunnar Appelgren, head of the investigation, one of Sweden’s all-time most complicated and expensive.

Eighteen people have stood trial in the recently concluded second edition of the court case.

The 40-year-old who left custody at noon on Monday is suspected of having played a pivotal role in the brutal murder of two brothers, of whom one was a local football star in Södertälje’s Assyriska club.

The suspect is not, however, the main kingpin, and Appelgren told The Local that the man did not have the clout to rebuild the Södertälje Network even if he were freed, which the police deem unlikely.

“A person can always go back to organized crime, but not in the same way. The key people are gone, and the Network’s trademark has been destroyed,” Appelgren said.

A local interpreter, who translated several interviews with witnesses, said the 40-year-old’s release from custody was no big deal. The name of kingpin Bernard Khouri, however, does still inspire fear in the community.

“If it was Khouri, I’d be worried,” the interpreter, who chose to remain anonymous, told The Local.

Khouri, who is being tried for conspiracy to commit murder, remains in custody. Local newspaper Länstidningen (LT) reported that he looked away as the prosecution showed pictures of the murdered brothers in the latest installment of the trial.

There were originally eight people standing trial for their role in the double homicide, but the first verdict found three of them not guilty. The prosecution chose not to attempt to prosecute them in the second trial.

The police do not fear any major revision of the sentences passed down in the first version of the trial.

“If it did, it would the beginning of a catastrophe,” a municipal politician told The Local.

“Södertälje cannot go back to how it was before the police stepped in,” she said.

Appelgren, who supervised the cross-agency investigation, admitted in 2010 that police at Stockholm County level had too long ignored the pleas for help from the industrial town, just shy of an hour south of Stockholm.

“It is difficult to explain the reach of this network, people lived in two different worlds,” the local politician said.

“A parallel business world, alternative banking with extortionate interest rates, a unique class structure…. when the police stepped in, people plucked up the courage to be Södertälje residents first and foremost,” she told The Local.

Ann Törnkvist

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