A FUGITIVE Romanian crook dubbed ‘the world’s biggest bank robber’ was awarded more than £61,000 in legal aid despite being jailed for 11 years in his absence – after going on the run during his trial.
Alexandru Sovu plundered billions from cash machines using sophisticated skimming devices across the globe.
Alexandru Sovu was granted £61,000 in legal aid despite fleeing his trial in the UK[/caption]
Last night an MP slammed his legal aid award as outrageous.
From his then-home in Reading, Berkshire, Sovu masterminded the operation flogging sophisticated ‘card reader’ devices to criminals based as far afield as New York, Jamaica, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Ghana and the Philippines.
The skimmers capture data from bank cards after they are placed into a cash machine, giving criminals access to the money connected to the card.
Amazingly, the 40-year-old crime kingpin escaped during his trial last year after hiring a £1,000-a-day barrister and being granted bail. It is thought he fled in a private plane after taking flying lessons.
But now The Sun on Sunday can reveal he was granted taxpayers’ money to help fund his defence in his absence, a whopping £50,610.42 going to pay his solicitors bill and a further £10,771.80 for counsel to represent him at his trial.
The case has echoes of speedboat killer Jack Shepherd. As The Sun revealed in December he got £93,000 in taxpayer-funded legal aid despite skipping his trial and going on the run in Georgia.
ONE OF THE MOST WANTED MEN IN THE WORLD
At the conclusion to Sovu’s trial at Blackfriars Crown Court last year Judge Rajeev Shetty said Sovu was one of the most ‘wanted men in the world’, adding: ‘He has shown breathtaking arrogance and put two fingers up to law and order.’
The fraudster arrived in UK in 2008 after completing a degree in Computer Programming and Electronics. He started a job at a software firm but was made redundant.
Sovu led a gang of Romanians who built the skimmers and false ATM fronts from a shed in a back garden in Harwich Road, Colchester, Essex.
The crooks used toy remote control cars to fool airport security when transporting the skimmers. By placing them inside the cars, they appeared as innocent wiring for the toys.
The gang were finally stopped in 2016 after British Transport Police officers identified suspects interfering with rail ticket machines.
At Sovu’s trial prosecutors said the case involved ‘millions of pounds of fraud’ because the device ‘gives them access to your money and the banks money’.
SCAMS ‘FUNDED TERRORISM’
IT expert Nick Webber, who worked on the police investigation into Sovu, said: “He created thousands of these devices.
“Each could hold 32,000 card details and the average bank account holds £380, so he must have cost banks hundreds of millions and very likely billions of pounds.
“He’s effectively the biggest bank robber in the world. He didn’t care who he sold the devices to or what they did with the money.
“His skimmers went to organised crime groups and also probably funded terrorism. Card skimmers have previously been used by jihadis, people traffickers and arms dealers who supplied Middle Eastern terrorists.”
Last night critics slammed the payment to Sovu – who is thought to have continued running his business in an industrial area in Shenzhen, mainland China, while living in Hong Kong.
MP David Davies said: “I think I speak for all my former colleagues in the British Transport Police in saying how important it is that this man is brought to justice as quickly as possible
“I am outraged that this individual has taken £61,000 in legal aid and has not even turned up to his own case.
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“He will presumably have vast assets from his criminal activities. Therefore it is vital that he is caught and stripped of his assets and his freedom as quickly as possible.”
A Legal Aid Agency spokesman said: “We cannot comment on individual cases but anyone found to have deliberately concealed or moved assets to qualify for legal aid will be ordered to pay back the money granted.
“Victims are our priority and we must ensure that court cases continue to be able to proceed so that justice can be done.”
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