The Swedish government is demanding a decisive international response to online scams in the wake of a media investigation into a fraudulent Ukrainian investment company that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from vulnerable would-be investors.
A cache of documents handed to the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, DN, by a whistleblower at Ukraine-based Milton Group, and shared with the OCCRP, exposed the inner workings of the company’s Kyiv call centre, where staff defrauded up to a thousand people worldwide with sham promises of get-rich-quick investment schemes.
While the company used its offices across several countries to target people as far afield as Ecuador and Australia, many of those worst affected were elderly Swedish citizens. Some were tricked out of more than US$200,000, with one woman forced to sell her home to cover her debts.
During a meeting on Monday with high-level officials in Ukraine, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that fraudulent activity at the company had taken place at an almost industrial level, according to DN.
“It is really upsetting to see how they bluff Swedish retirees who have to leave their homes and live on a minimum subsistence level. And then they sit there, laughing,” she said.
Linde noted that Ukraine has improved its justice system since the election of President Vlodymyr Zelensky, but said that it still has some way to go in reforming the rule of law.
The news reports indicate that the ringleaders of the “Milton Group” are David Todua, a Georgian-Israeli, and Jacob Keselman, a Ukrainian-Israeli who styles himself as ‘the Wolf of Kiev’ on his Instagram account. On Monday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde met with ‘high level officials’ in Kyiv and demanded action, reports the Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
From the Editor of ubn.news, Jim Brooke:
Time for a ‘Maski Show?’ Wednesday after lunch at Kyiv’s Arena entertainment center, three friends and I visited the ‘Milton Group,’ the downtown Kyiv call center ‘fraud factory’ that allegedly bilked millions of dollars from elderly people, largely Scandinavian retirees. In the past, Ukrainian police, faces covered and armed with automatic weapons, burst into Dragon Capital and Sikorsky Airport. No need for this in Mandarin Plaza. Here is how: go to the office tower ground floor. Speak English audibly. The guard will wave you through to the two side elevators. Push 7 on either elevator. When the unmarked office door opens with employees coming and going, go inside and check it out.
Given the millions of dollars that Finland, Norway, Sweden have given Ukraine since 2014, it would be nice if Ukrainian investigators shut down this scam operation, seize all computers, and prosecute all participants. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project provides a handy road map. After a visit to Kyiv on Monday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Tuesday: “It is really upsetting to see how they bluff (con) Swedish retirees who have to leave their homes and live on a minimum subsistence level. And then they sit there, laughing.”
At the Milton Group’s 2020 New Year’s bash in Kyiv, as the company’s hundreds of young staffers drank and danced the night away, some of the most important men in the room slipped away to pose for a photograph together.
Looking almost identical in their dark suits and shaved heads, and surrounded by a cadre of bodyguards, they lined up in front of a backdrop of pine fronds festooned with golden baubles. “Happy New Year! Milton Group,” the festive decoration read.
This image, uploaded to Instagram by at least two participants, was not just a party memento, but an important clue to journalists that Milton’s activities extended far beyond the borders of Ukraine, where it had been orchestrating a boiler-room scam out of a Kyiv mall that duped victims out of their life savings.
After persuading a victim to part with an initial investment of around $100, DN said, the salesperson then attempts to persuade the victim to install a program said to assist with financial advice. In fact, it provides Milton’s staff with full control of the host computer. The claims include that “big” loans were taken out in victims’ names without their permission using banking data stolen via the app and ID information that victims were asked to provide.
After initial investments, victims are shown figures suggesting high returns. Yet when they tried to withdraw the funds, the money disappeared, the investigation found.