In-House Barrister, Legal Director
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Keoghs and Kent police foil £3.5m fraud ring spearheaded by people trafficker
News And Events17/05/2018
An in-depth operation involving Keoghs' fraud rings and advocacy teams has helped Kent police bring down a motor fraud ring spearheaded by a human trafficker, saving insurers over £3.5 million.
Formed in 2011 following the identification of 25 linked claims involving staged accidents and the company Essex Claims Limited, Operation Mets was huge in both scope and complexity. Over its lifetime it involved 76 road traffic collisions and 322 intimated damages claims, 318 of which were defeated.
With Keoghs' investigations already ongoing, events took a dramatic turn in 2012 when a police operation investigating people trafficker, Mohammed Sangak, uncovered 728 documents depicting the details of supposed road traffic accidents. Police also discovered photocopied identity documents relating to people involved in the accident claims with further investigations revealing strong links between Sangak and Essex Claims Limited. In arresting a people smuggler, the police had inadvertently snared the kingpin of Operation Mets, a mass facilitator and referrer of staged accident claims.
Following Sangak’s arrest, Keoghs senior litigator, Stuart McFadyen, matched relevant damages claims with the seized diagrams, expanding his investigation to other alleged accidents involving linked personnel. A number of solicitors abandoned claims when informed that their referral source was corrupt, however many still issued proceedings which were stayed awaiting the outcome of the police investigation.
As the operation expanded, the full extent of the conspiracy was revealed. The ring’s modus operandi involved both the recruitment of tenants by landlords of multiple occupancy residences and also employees in the takeaway industry, along with multiple insurance policies incepted solely for the purpose of making fraudulent claims.
Meanwhile Sangak was convicted of conspiracy to defraud insurance companies following a five week trial during which Stuart McFadyen gave evidence on behalf of insurers. He received a sentence of two years imprisonment, running consecutively to his eight year people trafficking sentence.
Keoghs’ advocacy team took over conduct of Operation Mets with twelve live litigated claims from October 2016. Senior barrister, Mark Stanger, achieved co-management of all claims with a direction that claimants personally attend the pre-trial review and file a reply to defence, with failure to do so resulting in a strike out. As a result, nine of twelve claimants either discontinued or were struck out, with a further claim settled.
The remaining two proceeded to trial, and the Keoghs team immediately moved to reduce insurer’s costs by persuading the judge to deal with the cases consecutively on the fast track. Both turned largely on the performance of the claimants under cross-examination, with Janis Stepkans up first.
Stepkans called an independent witness who had seen the alleged accident, however Mark’s persistent cross-examination revealed inconsistencies in the claimant’s reporting of symptoms and financial affairs which the claimant proved unable to deal with. Furthermore Stepkans insisted he had exchanged details agreeably with the fault party in English, whereas cross examination of the independent witness revealed that Stepkans and the insured had been speaking in the same foreign language and that the defendant had been yelled at by Stepkans. Ultimately Stepkans’ claim was found to be fundamentally dishonest with the judge praising the “enormous amount of work” carried out by Stuart McFadyen and his team, “showing very comprehensively” that Stepkans was “part of a large conspiracy to defraud”.
With the second case, claimant Elida Troka alleged she and her parents had been involved in a collision with the insured. Once more the trial would predominantly turn on her performance and that of her witnesses. Troka was cross examined by Mark Stanger for most of the morning session, during the course of which her account of the accident, alleged injuries and claims history were comprehensively dismantled. Having spent the lunchtime adjournment with her legal team, Troka unsurprisingly decided to discontinue her claim along with those of her parents.
Following the trial wins, Senior Barrister, Mark Stanger said;
“To a large extent the smooth litigation process and positive outcomes were down to the joined-up approach of the Keoghs fraud rings and advocacy teams. This continuity ensured that upon the trials being twice adjourned by the court, there was no reduction in the quality of the defence and any duplication of costs was minimised. Indeed, the sheer size and complexity of Operation Mets presented a real case management challenge, with the hard work of Stuart McFadyen helping ensure the trials were dealt with inside the one day time limit.”
Senior Litigator, Stuart McFadyen, added;
“The trial wins were a fantastic culmination of what was an extremely complex, intelligence-led investigation. The fact that nearly 99% of the claims we investigated were defeated demonstrates the value of having accurate data and intelligence available to us. This not only helped us focus our time and effort where it was most effective, it also helped us minimise the costs for our insurer clients and, in turn, their customers."