Spanish Police Arrest Key Figure in Scam Brokerage Linked to ‘Fraud Factory’ Investigation

Published: 16 December 2022

Cyberpolice UkraineUkrainian cyberpolice posted photos online showing one of the call centers they had shut down. (Photo: CyberpoliceUA/Twitter, License)

By Antonio Baquero

Spanish police on Wednesday arrested a key figure in a massive investment fraud network exposed by OCCRP that has defrauded victims around the world of billions of dollars.

The man, identified by police only as “Pablo A”’, was the head of a fake investment platform called EverFX, which purported to be a foreign exchange brokerage but actually just stole customers’ money without ever investing it.

Pablo A. was arrested at Barcelona’s El Prat airport by police who boarded a plane he had just arrived on from Romania.

According to a joint statement from the Guardia Civil and the Mossos d'Esquadra — the Spanish and Catalonian police forces, respectively — Pablo A. was considered the Spanish “team leader” of EverFX, and was in charge of “managing” Spanish victims who were convinced to send money to the fake brokerage.

“Contacts with the victims were made through call centers located on the periphery of the European Union,” the statement said.

The arrest is part of a multi-year operation coordinated by Eurojust, Europe’s cross-border judicial cooperation agency, to take down the network of fake investment brands and call centers described by OCCRP and Dagens Nyheter in their joint “Fraud Factory” investigation. In a coordinated series of raids across Europe on Nov. 8 and 9, police from multiple countries — including Germany and Spain, where many victims lived — shut down 15 of the call centers in Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, North Macedonia, and Ukraine.

Investigators in Spain estimate that the fraud network had thousands of victims around the world, and the amount of money they stole is in the billions of euros. At some points, the network was bringing in 400 euros a minute, or 50 million euros every three months, they said.

EverFX was one of 470 investment “brands” linked to the organized crime group, but it stands out because it appears to have sought a high profile for itself in Spain, even sponsoring the Sevilla Football Club for at least one season.

Sevilla FC has taken its press material about the partnership offline, but photographs on the website of Mucho Deporte, a Spanish sports website, show the president of Sevilla FC, José Castro, smiling next to the director general of EverFX as the two men hold up a Sevilla football jersey bearing the EverFX logo.

A video posted online by Sevilla FC to promote EverFX’s sponsorship of the 2019-20 football season also shows Castro shaking hands with a Georgian man named Oto Shalikashvili. He was described in other Sevilla promotional materials as the chief marketing officer of EverFX.

A spokesperson for Sevilla FC said the club had no comment on the allegations against EverFX.

“They were just sponsors,” he said. “They paid their money and that’s it.”

Although Pablo A. is a Spanish citizen, police said he lived in Cyprus — where OCCRP has reported that at least one key figure linked to the organized crime group, a Georgian man, also resided.

A source close to the investigation said that Pablo A. held a high position in the organized crime group, similar to that of Amant Josifi, an Albanian ex-government official currently wanted for arrest for running a scam call center in Tirana.

Above the level of Pablo and Josifi, the source said, “there were Georgians” running the entire group.

In OCCRP’s original Fraud Factory investigation, a whistleblower identified the person behind the fraudulent call center he worked at as David Todua, a Georgian-Israeli man who owned a payment processing company based in Cyprus. (Todua acknowledged to OCCRP that he attended a party at the call center, but denied running it.)