Zeus fraud gang trial hits another delay

Prosecutors are still unable to produce all their evidence in the multimillion-pound international bank fraud case, leading to another hearing postponement for an alleged gang of eastern European fraudsters
Written by Mark Ballard, Contributor

Plea hearings for 11 people arrested for their part in an alleged multimillion-pound Zeus fraud ring have been delayed because the prosecution is still trying to assemble evidence against them.

The complex case is thought to involve a gang operating across a host of countries from Russia to the US. UK prosecutors are sifting through a mass of computer logs and financial records that will not be served as evidence in their entirety until 1 April, and has led to several postponements of plea hearings.

On Friday, 11 eastern Europeans attended Croydon Crown Court to enter pleas against charges of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering. They are alleged to have committed the crimes using the Zeus Trojan.

The prosecution said it would apply to extend their pre-trial custody beyond the statutory limit after Judge Ainley said further proceedings must wait until all the evidence had been collected. He postponed the plea hearing until 6 May and set a trial date for 21 September, almost a year after the arrest of 10 of the alleged gang.

Prosecution lawyer Mark Bryant-Heron told the court he had sent a "significant bundle" of around 400 pages of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service on Thursday, but added there is still a host of other evidence being sifted by the police.

The prosecution is poring over further computer logs that relate to bank accounts that it believes were used to commit the fraud against banks, including Barclays and HSBC. Prosecutors have also uncovered bank accounts belonging to more victims, from whom it is alleged the gang stole money using a Zeus hacking toolkit, which includes key-logging software that can be used to steal passwords.

Bryant-Heron said prosecutors expect that further evidence will include surveillance reports and computer analysis. He pressed the court to proceed with the plea hearing on Friday, with 1,500 pages of initial evidence have already been served.

The evidence yet to be submitted will substantiate £2.5m of fraud against the gang, he said. In September, the banks affected alleged that £6m had been defrauded from their customers, based on evidence gathered through a public-private intelligence sharing network called the Virtual Taskforce. However, prosecutors have yet to substantiate that amount of losses.

In court, Judge Ainley said he anticipated that all 11 defendants would plead not guilty. The 10 alleged gang members who appeared in court for the case in December were supplemented on Friday by Zurab Revazishvili, a 34-year-old unemployed Georgian man from Romford, Essex. He has been charged in relation to a bank account prosecutors say received funds generated through the fraud.

Five people arrested and bailed in connection with the investigation were "dealt with regarding peripheral matters", after being returned from bail on 14 January, according to a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police, who declined to explain further.

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