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#513669 - 05/11/16 11:09 AM Bulgarian Scammers Charge CC Fraud
Marty Offline
Last night, we told you about the 2 Eastern European men from Bulgaria who were allegedly caught after going on a prolific cyber theft in Belize of monies believed to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Well tonight, we can share more details with you.

Their identities have since been revealed to us as 25 year-old Halid Yuksel Aptula, and 28 year-old Georgi Tsvyatkov (z -vi-at-kov) Petrov, both of Bulgaria. They were arrested, charged, and arraigned in Magistrate's Court this evening, and we'll share the details on that hearing with you a later on.

But, first, to the details of a very intriguing tale of cyber-theft. Well, on Saturday, May 7, just before midday, a very vigilant auditor from the Belize Bank was out doing some errands. He stopped by the Belize Bank ATM on Albert Street to withdraw some money, and that's when he spotted Halid Aptula who was trying to withdraw money. This auditor, who apparently had been briefed by his superiors at the Belize Bank, recognized Aptula as the suspicious man in past surveillance camera footage which captured him and his associate conducting fraudulent withdrawals using the cyber theft scheme they'd set up.

As we told you, these men were scamming international bank cards, which can withdraw funds anywhere in the world. It just so happened, that they chose Belize as the location to make the withdrawal. The complex, yet simple scheme involved installing hidden cameras at ATM's in banks outside of Belize. That's how they managed to get the pin numbers of the victims they were stealing from. They then made fake credit cards and used the stolen pin numbers to make bogus withdrawals that seemed authentic.

And, it appears that the bank who's cash flow they targeted was the Belize Bank. The theft happened on several different occasions in January of 2016, then March of 2016, and then May of 2016.

So, on Saturday, when this Belize Bank Auditor spotted this suspicious man withdrawing money, he recognized the person who resembled the thief from those past instances. He told police that he followed the man who left the Albert Street ATM, and then went over to another Belize Bank ATM located at the Caye Caulker Water Taxi terminal.

While that man, later identified as Halid Aptula, was withdrawing money once again, the Belize Bank Auditor alerted a nearby police officer who was on duty. They found him still trying to get money out of the ATM, and that's how he was detained. Police quickly located the room where he and his associate, Georgi Petrov were staying, and the cops conducted a full sweep of their belongings and the room.

That's when they found 111 fake credit cards, believed to have been used in the cyber theft. They did not bear any names of an issuing bank, no names of a card owner, and no card numbers, all of which were tell-tale signs that they were fake. The officers also found 250 additional blank plastic cards, $2750 in cash, 2 Lenovo computers, a Lenovo cell phone, an iPhone and a Honda Civic car. They were detained, and all the items were confiscated by police.

They were cautioned and placed under arrest for theft, and according to police, they chose to give a caution statement which was recorded on camera as per the new Criminal Procedure Rules.

The Belize Bank then did its own investigation and confirmed several fraudulent transactions did happen on Saturday. They believe that at least 2 of these transactions were the very same ones that the Belize Bank Auditor saw Halid Aptula conducting. The Belize Bank also handed over surveillance footage and pictures of these 2 men at the ATM on those past occasions, using their stolen pin numbers and bogus cards.

Both men were arrested and charged with 1 count each of theft. So, that brings us up to this evening's arraignment.

Both men were taken before Senior Magistrate Sharon Frazer where she read the charges to them. First up was Georgi Petrov who pleaded guilty after the theft charge was read to him,.

When the Magistrate read the facts of the case to him, and asked if he agreed and accepted them as the truth of what happened, he immediately told the court that he did not. That's when his attorney, Christelle Wilson informed the court that the police had not provided them with disclosure, which is now required under the new criminal procedure rules. Senior Magistrate Frazer stood the matter down for a brief moment, and when she continued with the arraignment, Petrov changed his plea to not guilty. When the theft charge was read to Halid Aptula, he pleaded not guilty.

The prosecution then objected to bail on the grounds that they are flight risks and that the investigation was still ongoing. After consideration, Senior Magistrate Frazer upheld those objections, and remanded both men to the Belize Central Prison until May 20.

Outside of court, we got an opportunity to speak with their attorneys. Here's what they told us:

Oscar Selgado, Attorney for Halid Aptula
"The police has only arraigned these gentlemen, two of them on one charge of theft and that is the theft of $500 Belize dollars from the Belize Bank, allegedly on the 7th May."

Daniel Ortiz
"We notice in the courtroom, you indicated to the judge that you want an early adjourned date for you are in negotiations right now with the managers of Belize Bank. Are you able to disclose anything on that?"

Oscar Selgado, Attorney for Halid Aptula
"Well no, because we don't want to jeopardize the goof faith and the good gesture that the Belize Bank has extended to us in terms of sitting down and hearing us on this. They have not offered anything to us. We are making an offer to them. I will not say what the offer is. But what the nature of the offences are is as follows: The Belize Bank is alleging that on Saturday 7th of May instant, these two gentlemen went into ATMs from the Belize Bank, located on Albert Street and North Front Street and used phony withdrawal cards, debit cards to access cash from the bank and the Belize Bank is further alleging that they were already on alert, because similar conducts were reported to the bank by clients whose credit cards were used, or whose accounts were withdrawn from without their knowledge."

Daniel Ortiz
"Now, Ms. Christelle, you client initially pleaded guilty to the $500 theft. Given the nature of what has been allege, you would make the assumption or draw the conclusion that he is opening Pandora's box, because if he accepted guilt here, who's to say that he is not guilty of all the rest of offences, given that they are saying they have video and picture evidence that proves that he is the person who committed these crimes."

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"Initially he did plead guilty, but as you clearly can see from the way they spoke in court, there was a language barrier there first of all and second of all the facts of the case was never disclosed to us as their attorney or to the clients. So when he plead guilty, he could have been saying yes, I did use the ATM. Whether or not he took monies that the bank is now saying was fraudulently taken is another issue. After alerting the judge that this was the first time we are now learning of these alleged facts that are being put before my client. He has to be given an opportunity to change his plea, which he was allowed."

Daniel Ortiz
"How regularly have your clients visited this country? Supposedly there is a language barrier, and the preliminary facts would suggest that they only came to Belize to make these withdrawals and they left immediately afterwards."

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"I do not agree with that statement. I cannot disclose at this time how many times if they have been here prior to this date and I cannot say they only came here for the purpose of withdrawing monies. I can't say that at this moment."

And as you heard, the two defense counsels are already starting to poke holes in the prosecution's case. One important point they made to us is that they think that the investigators acted prematurely and brought criminal charges without having all the facts straight. As you heard, they're only facing theft for $500, when our information says that they are suspected of withdrawing a few hundred thousand dollars from Belize Bank's ATM's around Belize City. Here's how both attorneys explained what they see as a police error to proceed to an arraignment so quickly:

Oscar Selgado, Attorney for Halid Aptula
"I said that if there is a fraud as allege by the bank, then our clients are saying they did not manufactured any credit card. Where these banks accounts are originated from are foreigners. Our clients are saying to us that they are people who don't know about the credit cards. So that if there is a ring, then there has to be bigger people involved and that was what I was alluding at. So rather than to prosecute two people, listen to us, we will get what our clients know, if they know anything and we will divulge to the bank. So that FIU get involve, the bank get involve, Interpol get involve. What we are saying to the bank is that why hastily prosecute two people and there could possibly be a ring. So why not close the ring."

Reporter
"Can you speak to the 111 credit cards that was found without the corresponding bank or without the name of the credit card holders that were allegedly found in the possession of your clients?"

Oscar Selgado, Attorney for Halid Aptula
"None of us would be able to speak to that because that fact was only made know to the court today and none of that was divulge to us. As a matter of fact the police has not showed us any credit cards, not even one."

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"And we still do not know the amount of money that the bank is alleging that was taken from the bank. So really and truly there is nothing before the court for our clients to answer to at this moment."

Oscar Selgado, Attorney for Halid Aptula
"The investigation is young and it was premature of the police to bring charges before the court on one count, $500. Because the constitution guarantees that any person who has been either convicted or acquitted before any competent court for any offence cannot be tried for that offence or for any other offence at which time he could have been tried in the first instance. So that of the police now bring one charge, and we dispose of that charge, they cannot under the law come back tomorrow and say we will bring the other charges, to which they already have the facts. They ought to bring all the charges in one or separately before the court and let the court dispose of it. But you cannot have your cake and eat it at the same time."

We tried reaching the Belize Bank's management for comment, but we were unsuccessful. Both men will return to court on May 20, and we'll keep following this case.

Channel 7


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#513859 - 05/21/16 10:55 AM Re: Bulgarian Scammers Charge CC Fraud [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Bulgarian ATM Fraudsters Plead Guilty

Ten days ago, we showed you the 2 Bulgarian ATM Scammers who are believed to have stolen thousands of dollars from Belize Bank ATM's from around Belize City. Initially, 25 year-old Halid Aptula and 28 year-old Georgi Petrov were each arraigned on 1 count of theft for only 500 dollars. Well today, when they were taken back to court for an adjournment, the police slapped on 17 additional counts of theft. And that's where the Bulgarians did a very surprising thing: they stood up and pleaded guilty to all charges brought against them.

As we told you they were caught on Saturday, May 7, by mere chance, after a vigilant internal auditor from Belize Bank spotted Halid Aptula in the act of scamming the Belize Bank ATM. Both men, it appears, had stolen pin numbers from persons outside of Belize. The investigation into the scam revealed that they had an interesting cyber theft scheme going on. They installed hidden cameras at ATM's outside of Belize, which captured PIN numbers of bank patrons. They then made fake credit cards, and they then came to Belize, where they used the stolen pin numbers and these fake cards to make mass withdrawals, all of which were stolen monies.

The Belize Bank told the police that their ATM's in the City had been targeted on several different occasions in January, March, and May of this year. Police investigations revealed that these men were in the country on all the dates that these fraudulent transactions happened.

Police found 111 fake credit cards in the men's hotel room along with 250 blank plastic cards. Initial court reports said that they found $2750 in cash. Well, police updated the court today that what they actually found was $21,750.

Today they were charged with 17 additional counts of theft of money, in increments of $200 to $500. On Friday May 6, and Saturday May 7, both men made a total of 18 different withdrawals of $500 or less. That's what they pleaded guilty to before Senior Magistrate Frazer today when she arraigned them. The bank is accusing Halid Aptula of stealing a total of $6,800, and they're accusing Georgi Petrov of stealing $8,000.

After both men pleaded guilty to each count, Senior Magistrate Frazer adjourned the case to consider what sentence they should get. She had to consider handing them a fine, or a prison sentence, and the attorneys for both men interceded asked the court to consider a fine because they had not wasted the court's time by pleading guilty.

When the Senior Magistrate returned 2 hours later, she informed both men that she was reserving judgment until June 8. So, both men had to return to Prison on remand while they await the Magistrate's ruling. When the hearing finished we spoke with one of their attorney's outside about the outcome:

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"Today we had additional charges levied against our clients, bringing the sum to about $8,000 from my client Georgi and $6,000 plus for Mr. Halid. So what we did, we made submissions to the court to the effect that since the law prescribes, the summary jurisdiction offences act provides that if somebody is convicted of theft, they can be charged with a fine as opposed to imprisonment. Si our submissions were along that line that they've pled guilty, they are aiding the court in saving the court time, instead of going through a very lengthy trial and putting the bank to prove them - they have accepted liability even though they might not agree with some of the facts, they accepted liability and they are now willing to just pay a fine and go home. But as you all know today that was not the end result in the courtroom this afternoon, because the judge is reserving her decision for the 8th June."

Reporter
"Were you all surprised by the prosecution indicating that they would actually move to seized all the money and other things found?"

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"It caught me very much off guard, because the last time we appeared in court which was some 11 days ago, they made no indication that they were going to do any type of seizing order and they waited to hear our submissions, they waited until the judge was about to deliver her ruling to come and say 'oh just so you know I want to give you notice that we are going to be putting in an application to cease their monies and their goods under the FIU act.' I think it was ambushed to us and I am grateful that the magistrate is giving us time to review the submissions that they have made, the application and come prepared to argue that application. Because they really took me off guard when they brought that."

As you heard, the charges that both men pleaded guilty to are only from May 6 and May 7. But, as we told you, the Bank became aware of the scheme since January, and police investigation show that every time the bank was targeted, both men were in the country. But, at this time, they aren't facing any charges on any of those other occasions when the bank was targeted. Our information was that the police suspected them of stealing as much as a few hundred thousand dollars from Belize's banking system, so given that they are only facing charges for less than 20 thousand dollars, did they get off easy? That's what we asked one of their attorneys:

Daniel Ortiz
"Were they treated with leniency, because they were not prosecuted for those instances where the bank is reasonably certain that your clients were in the country and those instances happened as well?"

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"Well remember in these types of criminal cases, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these two persons did in fact steal monies in that timeline that they have given. So far their virtual complainant which is the bank has only produced those two dates as you rightly mentioned. So I would say that they've been treated with leniency, but they can only answer to what the prosecution and the bank is putting forth. So maybe it's that the bank has not tied up that loose end yet to say with definity who is responsible for those monies that went missing in January, February, March or whatever the date was. But they can only answer to the two dates that were put in front of them."

Daniel Ortiz
"Experienced ATM Belize Bank user tell us that you can only withdraw $500.00 at a time for each transaction. The fact that your clients have pleaded guilty to 18 attempts would suggest well-develop scheme. These are scammers who know exactly what they are doing."

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"Well I wouldn't say that these are scammers who know exactly what they are doing. What my clients have always maintained was that based on instructions they withdrew monies from the ATM. They are still not under the impression that it was in any way theft, because they used legitimate cards to pull the monies from the ATM. It is the bank now that is saying these cards were illegitimate cards and the accounts were not for them to pull from. So it's really for the prosecution and the bank to prove otherwise. Today, they accepted liability for going into the bank and withdrawing money. They are not saying that they did anything illegal, they are just saying yes we took monies and if you are going to fine us guilty for taking monies - we will even give you back the monies. We took these monies, we will give you back, but that's as far as they are saying and as much as I could tell the media at this point."

As we told you, the case continues on June 8, and we'll be there to tell you what the judge decides.

Channel 7


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#514314 - 06/11/16 11:10 AM Re: Bulgarian Scammers Charge CC Fraud [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Jail For Bulgarian Bank Card Fraudsters

For the past month, the 2 Bulgarian ATM Scammers, 28 year-old Halid Aptula, and 25 year-old Georgi Petrov, have been at the Belize Central Prison. Well, Senior Magistrate Sharon Frazer has ruled that they must spend 12 more months in Jail after they admitted that they scammed a total of $14,800 dollars from Belize Bank ATM's all around Belize City.

3 weeks ago, they pleaded guilty to 18 counts each of illegally withdrawing money from the ATM's, conducting a textbook case of bank card fraud. They got the numbers from ATM's outside Belize, and then made fake credit cards, came to Belize, and used the stolen banking information to make mass withdrawals using those fake bank cards.

On May 20, during their second arraignment before Senior Magistrate Frazer, both men did a surprising thing and pleaded guilty to separately stealing $8,000 and $6,800 each. The bank's surveillance systems at the City ATM branches captured them taking out $500 dollars or less, eighteen different times each between Friday, May 6 and Saturday May 7.

Eventually, Halid Aptula was caught in the act and Police launched a quick operation which led them to detain Georgi Petrov, and they confiscated, 111 fake credit cards, 250 additional blank plastic cards, and $21,750 in cash.

After 3 weeks of considering the case, Senior Magistrate Frazer returned to court today and explained that a prison sentence, not a fine, is appropriate because if they hadn't been caught on May 7, they'd most likely still be out and stealing from the bank. But, they did save the court time by pleading guilty, so she decided that they would 3 months in prison for the first 4 theft convictions, which will run consecutively. That adds up to 12 months in jail, and for the other 14 counts, they would serve 3 months for each, all of which would run concurrently. That means that they will only spend 1 year in jail.

Right after the court hearing, we spoke with one of their attorneys about the sentence that the Senior Magistrate handed them. Here's what she told us:

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"As attorneys we have to be practical when we are advising our clients. We know that certain information were put before the courts and we thought it was in their better interest to plead guilty which satisfies the overriding of the court to offer a lesser sentence, a more lenient sentence which we have come to the realization is what our clients got. When we look at the law, the maximum sentence could have been anywhere to 3 or more years or a fine exceeding what we had thought would have come out of this. For them to get 3 months to run concurrently and 3 months consecutively which amounts to 1 year - we find that to be very lenient and we are very thankful to the court for giving us that sentence today. What you also saw in court today was the application for a confiscation order being made by the prosecution which was what we were trying to knock down on the grounds that they were found guilty of $8,000 and $6,000 respectively. So it doesn't satisfy the threshold of the prosecution to bring an application under the money laundering and prevention of terrorism act for a serious offence for them to confiscate the monies that were found at the premises of the two individuals."

So, what about the other times that they are suspected to have stolen from the bank? Well, at this time, it appears that they cannot be criminally charged for those cases.

Now, the Belize Bank has determined that the credit card fraud scheme started bank in January of this year, and it continued in March and May. Now, they have admitted to stealing almost fifteen thousand dollars in just 2 days in May, so how much more did they get away with through all those months? Our information is that the total figure was in the hundreds of thousands.

And indeed, sources tell us that the cops attempted to lodge something between 80 and 90 new counts of theft against Halid Aptula. That's an estimated $35,000 or more that Aptula, the suspected mastermind, would have been additionally accused of stealing. But, the window of opportunity has been slammed shut on those new charges, since both men have already pleaded guilty to the initial 18 counts. The law does not allow for them to be additionally charged since the criminal case against them is finished.

Christelle Wilson discussed that crucial mis-step by the cops which may have allowed these men to get off easy:

Daniel Ortiz
"Our information is that the police attempted to lodge additional charges. We are told some 79-87 additional counts which would have taken that threshold of monies supposedly above forty plus thousand dollars."

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"Those charges would have had to been brought at the initial time the first were brought. Remember when those charges were read, our clients plead guilty. So they have already been convicted of those charges that came on the 7th and 8th in May. What the rule of law is that in accordance with autrefois convict, they cannot be tried again for the same crime for the same similar facts of theft. So I don't know where you heard that they were bringing additional charges, but they can't bring additional charges based on these same similar facts, because that would be putting our clients in a double jeopardy situation which would be going against their constitutional rights. So I don't that think that's going to happen. I don't see how they would try to do that and if they try to do that, then you'd be having to make some very serious constitutional arguments against that."

Daniel Ortiz
"If in deed those charges were brought to the court and the idea was that maybe we've been out of time, doesn't that make today's sentence leniency particularly more relevant given that had the police done as they ought to have been doing, your clients could be facing more charges."

Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Georgi Petrov
"As I said I can't speak to those additional charges, because this is the first time that I'm being made aware of that. But I will concede that the court was very lenient today and that is what we as attorneys pray for when we come to court. We know what the outcome could be for our clients and so when we get a lesser sentence we are appreciative and whether or not those additional charges were brought as you heard clearly today the judge mentioned that because they plead guilty, because they speed up the process for the court, it could very be that even if additional charges were brought, this same sentence would have been delivered."

When the case returns to court next week, we'll tell you whether or not the court allows the state to confiscate the cash that the cops found in their apartment.

Channel 7


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