Fraudsters found guilty

Gang guilty of conspiracy to defraud holidaymakers

By TravelMole on 27 February 2008 in News

A gang of fraudsters have been found guilty of conspiracy to defraud thousands of innocent holidaymakers to the tune of £6 million.

Christakis Philippou, 62, Evangela Liogka, 38, and Timothy Entwisle, 56, were found guilty at Southwark crown court today after a six-week trial.

A fourth member of the gang, Peter Kemp, 52, had already pleaded guilty.

In the biggest case of its kind, the gang was prosecuted in connection with five holiday companies which, between July 2003 and August 2006, advertised holiday bargains that duped customers to pay for holidays that did not exist.

ABTA, the CAA and Teletext have worked closely with the Metropolitan Police to bring this case to court, providing manpower and funding to gather evidence.

In 2000, ABTA, the CAA and Teletext formed an anti-fraud group with the sole objective of working together to tackle and prevent fraud within the travel industry.

Mike Monk, ABTA’s head of financial services said: “Customers who booked with these companies were victims of criminal fraud. Our role as the leading travel association is to assist the police in identifying fraud and in prosecuting the perpetrators.

“We are very pleased that this case has been successful against a gang, who have persistently targeted the travel industry as they believed it was a soft target."

The Metropolitan police said the fraudsters offered cut-price deals which legitimate companies could not compete with.

The gang, who will be sentenced at a later date, set a cut off date when they planned for each company to crash, enabling them to disappear with the cash.

This left the travel industry and credit card companies to pick up the bill of lost holidays, with some victims even finding themselves stranded abroad with no accommodation or flights home.

Philippou set up the companies, for the summer season.

The defendants would then buy a travel company, retaining the original owner as a consultant and using others as the named director of the company, ensuring none of them were named on the bond allowing them to trade.

The companies named in this case were:

Ciao Travel trading under the name Sun (2004) - 2035 victims, losses 1.8 million

Onshine trading under the name Sunsplash (2005) - losses 1.8 million

Grayrise Associates trading under the name Elite Travel (2005) - losses 1.7 million

Orange Sun Ltd trading under the names holidays4under200pound.com, unbeatableholidays.com (2006) - losses £620,000

Sun Orient trading under the name sunmed-resorts.com (2006) - no losses as police action taken.

The extent of the gang's activity was highlighted in August 2006 when the London Heathrow terrorist alert grounded all flights out of the UK.

Many people rang to check the flights they had booked were still valid, and those who had booked through the fraudulent companies began to discover that the flights did not exist.

They also called or e-mailed their hotels to find that there was no accommodation booked.

The authorities were inundated with complaints from victims about Islington-based company ‘Sun Orient’. Local police visited the premises and enquiries led them to Orange Sun Ltd, which had already folded.

After extensive media coverage of the scams, many victims began posting comments on website message boards and it became clear that there were countless victims throughout the UK.

The Met police designed a proforma which was posted on the Fraud Alert website. There were over 800 reports posted on the site that were used as hearsay material for the trial and, in addition, police took 56 victim statements and over 300 witness statements.

Detective superintendent Russell Day, from the Specialist and Economic Crime Command, said: “Today’s verdict is justice for the thousands of victims that resulted from this highly sophisticated fraud.

"The criminals benefited greatly from this scam without a second thought about their victims, which included handicapped children, honeymoon couples and people celebrating their retirement.

"I am grateful for the assistance of the travel industry during the investigation and praise the dedication and professionalism of the detectives in this case.

“Although we have already recovered substantial criminal proceeds, these criminals have been enjoying a criminal lifestyle for many years and our work continues to locate and seize all their criminal assets.

"It is a source of frustration that fraud is sometimes seen as a victimless crime but this investigation amply illustrates the parasitic nature of fraudsters and their impact on a multitude of victims across the broad range of our society.”

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