Ex-Georgian defense minister may be behind global scam network - BBC investigation
BBC on call center scam in Georgia
On April 12, the BBC published an investigation alleging that former Georgian Defense Minister David Kezerashvili may be connected to a fraudulent network that has earned more than a billion dollars by defrauding European citizens.
The network is known to police as the Milton Group. Police have identified more than 152 brands participating in the network.
As the BBC points out, most of those behind the scheme have have Georgian surnames and are likely Georgian citizens — David Todua, Rati Chelidze, Guram Gogeshvili, Iosif Mgeladze and Mikhail Benimini. These names appear in the Panama Papers and are associated with David Kezerashvili.
The BBC says it cannot document Kezerashvili’s connection to this fraudulent network, and investigative journalists were unable to find concrete evidence that Kezerashvili has a financial interest in the Milton Group brands.
However, journalists also mention other important details that, in their opinion, may indicate Kezerashvili’s connection with this case.
“Many trails lead to one figure — David Kezerashvili, a former high-ranking official of the Georgian government, who was the country’s defense minister for two years,” the BBC wrote.
As journalists discovered, Kezerashvili acted as a founder or shareholder of offshore, subsidized companies that existed before Milton Group.
Several former employees of the Milton Group anonymously confirmed to the BBC that they had direct contact with Kezerashvili and that he was involved in the Milton Group.
The journalists also discovered that Kezerashvili often advertised fraudulent trading platforms on his social networks. On LinkedIn he used his account almost exclusively to advertise jobs at companies associated with the Milton Group and repost their posts.
As further evidence against Kezerashvili, the BBC cites the fact that several companies owned by Kezerashvili used a private mail server whose only users were Milton Group companies.
- Court of Appeal upholds verdict against ex-Minister of Defense of Georgia
- Call center fraud: international criminal scheme uncovered in Georgia
Kezerashvili also owns a building in Kyiv where the office of the fraudulent call center was located. In November, the police raided the office.
BBC writes that Kezerashvili has offices in Tbilisi, where some fraudulent firms are also located.
According to the BBC, they also carefully checked the social media profiles of five high-profile representatives of the Milton Group (David Todua, Rati Chelidze, Guram Gogeshvili, Iosif Mgeladze and Mikhail Benimini) and found that four of them have close social ties with Kezerashvili. For example, shared photographs from weddings and social events were found.
The article also mentions that Kezerashvili is a Facebook friend of at least 45 people associated with the Milton Group scam.
Kezerashvili’s lawyers told the BBC that their client categorically denies any connection to the Milton Group. Guram Gogeshvili, Rati Chelidze and Iosif Mgeladze also deny the allegations. Mikhail Benimini did not answer reporters’ questions.
Follow us – Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
What is a call center?
The Georgian opposition and government have long accused each other of involvement in so-called “call centers”. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili talked about the guilt of a high-ranking official of the previous government, David Kezerashvili, and the chairman of the largest opposition party, the National Movement, Levan Khabeishvili, about the guilt of the head of the state security service, Grigol Liluashvili.
Citizens living in different European countries become victims of fraudulent activity of call centers. According to a predetermined plan, employees of the “call center” contacted citizens of Germany and other countries using false phone numbers, presented themselves with fictitious names, provided false information about the location of their company and offered to participate in electronic trading in securities, currency and cryptocurrency through fictitious electronic accounts with using platforms.
Operators assured users that with their help, in the case of electronic commerce, they would be able to make significant profits. After obtaining the consent of the user, the funds allocated for e-commerce were placed in bank accounts controlled by the criminal group.
The funds were then transferred by the group to the accounts of companies based abroad, from which they ended up in the accounts of companies in Georgia for a fictitious purpose, as if in exchange for services rendered.
Under this scheme, criminals laundered illegal proceeds in the amount of 9,490,991 euros, 716,642 dollars and 218,000 British pounds in 2021. Then the prosecutor’s office made an official statement about the disclosure of a transnational crime. According to her, the citizens of Georgia and Israel formed an organized criminal group with a structural form that acted in collusion, fraudulently seized “millions of euros belonging to German citizens and legalized illegal proceeds of crime.”
BBC on call center scam in Georgia