Crime For Members

INTERVIEW: Welfare fraud 'a key income' for some Swedish gangs

The Local Sweden
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INTERVIEW: Welfare fraud 'a key income' for some Swedish gangs
File photo taken inside a Swedish healthcare centre. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Swedish gangs are branching out, financing their criminal activity with welfare fraud or tax evasion. But the story is more nuanced than that, a criminologist told The Local.


Sweden's Economic Crime Authority warns that gang criminals are starting to establish themselves within the healthcare industry, opening healthcare and vaccination centres to access regional and municipal funding.

"We can see early signs that they are starting to enter into the healthcare sector, run healthcare centres and vaccination centres," Sara Persson, crime prevention specialist at the Economic Crime Authority, told Sveriges Radio.

The authority predicts that potential profits from healthcare welfare fraud amount to almost six billion kronor, around twice as much as profits from the drug trade.

It can see evidence of welfare fraud within the Foxtrot network, whose members often commit multiple different types of crime.

The same can be said for other Swedish gangs, as criminology lecturer Manne Gerell from Malmö University explained to The Local in an interview for our Sweden in Focus podcast (October 7th), although the true story is more nuanced.

"Fraud is another key income – for some of the gangs anyway. Many of these gangs are multi criminals," Gerell said.


Gerell added that motorcycle gangs are usually more likely to be involved in welfare sector fraud than street gangs, which are often financed with profits from the drug trade.

"They do all kinds of crimes that they can gain a profit from. Some of them are specialised in robberies, others are specialised in fraud, and others will do a lot of tax evasion, working without paying taxes or getting money from authorities for being on sick leave while in fact they are not."

"In general, gangs that gain more of their income from welfare crimes and similar will on average tend to be less involved in gang violence, such as shootings and bomb attacks. There's no need to fight against other gangs over the welfare fraud market, because that's kind of unlimited, whereas the drug market is limited. That's the key difference," he added.

Gerell underlined the fact that different gangs are financed in different ways, and it is by no means the case that all gangs are moving into welfare fraud.

"Some gangs do all kinds of crimes, some are really good at fraud or welfare crimes. Others pretty much only do drugs and violence. So it differs across different types of gangs. That's an important nuance that sometimes gets lost in the debate," he said.


While it is concerning that gangs are managing to infiltrate parts of the welfare state in this way, Gerell believes that ultimately, the authorities will succeed in combatting it.

"We cannot rule out that they will become even more entrenched in society and infiltrate other parts of society, but then again, I think this is a topic that is very high on the political and police agenda, people all over a spectrum of authorities are doing a lot to try to combat this."

"So I think the Swedish government will prevail and will be able to do something about this, now that everyone is focusing on it."

"While we should take the threat and the signals of what's happening seriously, we do still have competent authorities that can combat this type of crime as well."

How are gangs infiltrating the welfare sector?

The Economic Crime Authority warned in a report it released earlier this year along with other authorities that there were a number of problems with the way Sweden's healthcare system was set up, which left it open to abuse by criminal actors.

Firstly, there is no need to secure any sort of permit before starting a healthcare centre or similar centres such as residential care homes for young people (HVB-hem). 

There is also no national register of these centres, with everything done on a regional basis, making it difficult to spot fraudulent companies setting up healthcare centres in different regions.

It is also difficult for regions to get rid of a company once they have a deal in place.

According to a separate report from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), released last year, this is especially the case if the company is good at filling its leadership positions with people who appear trustworthy, or if those running it swap out their board of directors whenever they’re accused of committing fraud. 


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