ToI investigates

October surprise: Who’s who in the unprecedented wave of investment scam raids

A detailed look at the German-led blitz against alleged Israeli-led online fraud schemes in 6 countries offers a peek at the industry’s tangled webs and the figures being targeted

Simona Weinglass is an investigative reporter at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: An employee of the Bulgarian call center Dortome BG is handcuffed on October 6, 2021, during a Europol-coordinated raid (Source: Bulgarian Interior Ministry)
Illustrative: An employee of the Bulgarian call center Dortome BG is handcuffed on October 6, 2021, during a Europol-coordinated raid (Source: Bulgarian Interior Ministry)

The month of October has seen an unprecedented number of police raids, arrests and extradition proceedings against Israeli alleged investment fraudsters, suggesting that law enforcement bodies abroad are intensifying their crackdown on Israel’s still-flourishing investment fraud industry.

Since about 2005, Israel has been a major source of one type of internet fraud, namely, fraud involving fake online trading or investment websites. Israeli authorities have largely ignored the criminal activity, allowing it to blossom into a full-fledged industry employing thousands of people and allegedly stealing billions of dollars.

But over the past few weeks, a spate of 10 law enforcement actions carried out at the behest of either the German police or the FBI suggests that authorities are ratcheting up their pursuit of alleged investment fraudsters.

The raids have also been marked by a new focus on not only the boiler rooms putting the hard sell on potential victims and websites they represent, but the trading platforms that act as the engine behind the alleged frauds.

Related: In major shift, Germany begins targeting the platforms driving Israel’s investment frauds

A detailed look at the raids and who they are targeting provides a glimpse through the fog normally shrouding the vast interconnected web of Israeli-run online investment frauds and the alleged scammers behind them.

Bulgarian police raid a call center in Sofia that was allegedly behind the website (Source: Youtube screenshot)

Here is the Times of Israel’s recap of the recent crackdowns.

October 22, 2021: Kfir Levy arrested in Philippines

The Philippines Bureau of immigration announced on October 26 that it had arrested Israeli citizen Kfir Levy at the behest of German law enforcement. Kfir Levy was allegedly a leading figure in a Bulgarian call center operation led by Gal Barak. Their websites used the Tradologic platform to allegedly defraud investors around the world into fake binary options, forex, CFD and crypto investments.

October 21, 2021: Caven Czertok extradited

Caven Jechiel Czertok, a German citizen who was a permanent resident of Israel, was extradited to Germany from Israel on October 21 to face trial for professional fraud and membership in a criminal organization.

Czertok, 32, is accused of defrauding at least 100 German victims between October 2017 and November 2019 out of at least 1 million euros through the websites Kayafx, Kontofx and Libramarkets. Czertok was arrested in Tel Aviv on May 11, 2021, at the request of German prosecutors in the city of Koblenz in Rheinland-Pfalz. If convicted, Czertok faces 1-10 years in prison.

Caven Czertok in 2015 (Facebook screenshot)

The websites Kayafx, Kontofx and Libramarkets allegedly stole 8 million euros from German citizens and about 30 million from people in Europe, according to German prosecutors and Europol.

The alleged victims’ money was deposited in banks all over the world, often in accounts belonging to third-party payment companies that were also used by other online investment companies, not just the ones under investigation in this case.

In this way, banks did not know the identity of the money’s ultimate beneficiary, German prosecutors said. Some of the companies that received alleged victims’ money were Upaycard/ UPC Consulting, Fibonatix, Global VC, Nordindustries OU, Yield Enterprise Currency Software, Global Mojave Capital SL, Blagocorpteam SL, Stadnik KFT, Toot Capital SL, Voguepay, P2P Gmbh, CB Payments, Yanay Capital SL, Transferwise, Praxispay, Agnipay, Bitstamp Ltd., Logistics Craft SRO, Kriptomat, Payward Ltd., Xchangepro, PXP Financial Ltd., and others.

October 20, 2021: Israeli police raid Petah Tikva call center

Israeli police on October 20 raided a call center in Petah Tikva and detained 15 individuals suspected of online investment fraud against citizens of Germany. After questioning the 15 suspects, police released all but four, who were brought to Jerusalem Magistrate’s court for a remand hearing. The call center has not been named. The court placed a gag order on the names of the suspects until the next hearing in their case.

Court and police documents show that the suspects allegedly ran the websites IntegraOption, SolidCFD, Tradesolid, FXIntegra, TechOption, TradeGF, NordCapitalMarkets, BitCapitalMarkets, MyCoinBanking, CoinsBanking, Getfinancial, TradeLegal, FXLaws, Procapitalmarkets, ProfitsTrade, FXPace, AccepTrade and GainFinTech. Their websites used the platforms SpotOption and Tradologic. They allegedly ran call centers in Israel, Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova. They allegedly stole tens of millions of Euros, according to German prosecutors.

The suspects are part of a group of Israelis who allegedly established call centers in Israel and other countries, persuading individuals to invest money in forex, binary options, and other financial instruments. By the time those duped realized that the investments were fictitious, their money had already disappeared, police said.

October 19, 2021: Coordinated police actions in Israel and Georgia

On October 19, Israeli police reportedly detained and questioned a lawyer who was thought to have taken part in the management of the websites run by the suspects in the Petah Tikva call center, according to Israel’s Posta crime news website. The questioning was reportedly carried out at the behest of German police.

Seven individuals who were part of the same group as those in Petah Tikva were arrested in Georgia on October 19, according to an October 27 press release issued by the public prosecutor in Bamberg, Germany. Three of the people arrested in Georgia were women.

October 11, 2021: Germany indicts Jacki Fitelzon

On October 11, the Public Prosecutor’s office in Bamberg, Germany, announced that it had indicted a 44-year-old Israeli who had been a senior manager of several online investment websites owned by convicted fraudster Gal Barak.

Yifat Fitelzon and her ex-husband Jacki in a photo she posted as part of her public campaign to get him freed (Facebook screenshot)

The man, who has been named in German media reports as Tal-Jacki Zecharia Fitelzon, was allegedly the “vice president of sales” for a group of call centers in Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia that operated the allegedly fraudulent online trading sites Safemarkets, OptionStarsGlobal, Cryptopoint and XTraderFX.

All of these sites used the Tradologic platform. In July, Austrian police indicted Israelis Ilan Tzorya and Michael Golod, and Bulgarian Milena Kabadzhova, on charges of running the platform.

Fitelzon is “accused of being responsible for a total loss of around 8.7 million Euros caused to 335 people in the period from March 2016 to March 2019, together with his accomplices,” a press release said, adding that “it can be assumed that there is a considerable number of unreported cases.”

If convicted, he could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

October 6, 2021: Raids in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Ukraine

On October 6, law enforcement agencies from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, the Netherlands and Ukraine raided offices in Sofia, Limassol and Kyiv.
The coordinated raids resulted in “eight house searches (five in Bulgaria, one in Cyprus, two in Ukraine), 17 individuals questioned in Bulgaria and one high-value target arrested in Cyprus,” according to a Europol press release.

A Times of Israel analysis of a video released by Europol shows that one of the call centers raided in Sofia was Dortome BG. Its directors, according to Bulgaria’s corporate registry, include at least two Israelis: Erez Moshe Almog and Lior Sanderovich.

Neither Almog nor Sanderovich responded to The Times of Israel’s request for comment.

In Ukraine, the offices of a company that allegedly developed technology for the scheme were raided.

All of the October 6 raids reportedly targeted the people behind the website Fx-leader and related websites. These sites used a platform known as Tradersoft.

A scrennshot of the Fxleader website

Prosecutors in the German cities of Göttingen, Braunschweig and Rostock, who are jointly carrying out the investigation, found that this particular alleged criminal ring was linked to about 250 websites, at least 85 of which showed strong evidence of being fraudulent, they said.

German media reports have quoted prosecutors’ claims that the network targeted in the October 6 raids allegedly caused losses of 500 million euros per year to “tens of thousands” of victims.

October 5: Israeli police bust call center at behest of FBI

On the morning of October 6, Israeli police announced that the night before they had raided an unnamed call center allegedly carrying out forex and cryptocurrency scams. Police arrested 26 people. Only two of them, Guy Grinberg and Snir Moshe Hananya were brought to Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court for a remand hearing.

The two men are suspected of fraud against US citizens involving forex trading on cryptocurrencies, Israeli police said.

Guy Grinberg, arrested at the behest of the FBI and suspected of forex and crypto fraud (Facebook screenshot)

“This was a covert transnational investigation run by the FBI with the help of the Tel Aviv District Fraud Division together with Interpol and the Unit for Legal Assistance,” Chief Superintendent Komi Jibli said in an October 6 video released to reporters.

“The investigation reached the public stage in which citizens in several countries were arrested simultaneously for the same crime against US citizens,” he said.

Police did not name the call center that had been raided but did release a video showing the raid at a modern-looking office.

The raid was apparently connected to an FBI-instigated police action against call centers in Kyiv and Kharkov announced by Ukraine on October 7. An FBI spokeswoman confirmed to The Times of Israel that the agency was working on an investigation with Israeli police and Ukrainian police.

On October 12, the Ynet news site reported that the two suspects arrested in Israel had been released from jail, and suggested that the entire case had “dissipated.” The newspaper quoted Guy Grinberg’s lawyer saying his client’s arrest had been entirely without foundation.

Snir Moshe Hananya in 2012 (Facebook screenshot)

“I have to say that I am shocked at the unbearable ease with which a law-abiding citizen can find himself crushed with great force by the law-enforcement system when he did nothing wrong,” said Grinberg’s attorney Eyal Ochaion.

Snir Hananya’s lawyer, Shahar Hatzruni, told The Times of Israel that both the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court and later the Tel Aviv District court accepted the defense’s argument that there is no basis to the suspicions against Snir Hananya and ordered that he be released.

The Times of Israel was unable to corroborate this as some of the court filings in the case remain sealed.

Attorney Shahar Hatzruni (Courtesy)

In response to a query from The Times of Israel, a police spokesperson said that the suspects had been released on bail, and indicated that this did not mean the case had fallen apart.

“We emphasize that the purpose of the arrest does not reflect the quality of the evidence or outcome of investigation, as the investigation is ongoing, and at its end all the materials will be transferred to the state prosecutor’s review and decision,” a police spokesperson wrote in an email to The Times of Israel.

October 4: New arrest in ring linked to Airsoft platform

German police in Bamberg have been pursuing a separate alleged crime ring that used the websites Trade Capital, Fibonetix, Nobel Trade, Forbslab and Huludox, which they allegedly operated from 2018 to April 2020. As the Times of Israel previously reported, German police instigated raids of call centers associated with this ring in Bulgaria and Serbia at the beginning of April 2020 as well as a second raid in Ukraine in December 2020.

On October 4, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General announced that police had arrested a fourth suspect connected with this ring of alleged fraudsters. The suspect was not named.

Several of the allegedly fraudulent websites connected with the ring used an Israeli online trading platform known as Airsoft Technologies. Airsoft provides potential brokers with everything they need to set up an online business specializing in trading forex, CFD, or cryptocurrency instruments, according to Airsoft’s marketing material.

This includes “development service, dedicated project managers and full technical online support” as well as back-office marketing technology and “referrals” to payment processors.

A screenshot of the Airsoft Ltd. homepage on January 7, 2018.

The Times of Israel has seen at least one contract with a broker in which Airsoft took a share of the website’s ongoing revenues. A large number of Airsoft’s clients have been the subject of regulator warnings around the world.

In August 2020, Ukrainian prosecutors reportedly received a request from German prosecutors in Bamberg to investigate five individuals in connection with the case, three of whom are reportedly Israeli citizens: Timur Rokhlin (or Rohlin), Maxim Baranovsky Raphael and Michael Chebotar.

Little is known about any activities in Israel by the first two men. Neither of them show up in Israeli commercial or legal databases.

Chebotar, 34, is the director of several green energy companies in Namibia and South Africa. He appears to live or have lived in Israel, where his brother, Vadim Chebotar, is a minor celebrity thanks to his marriage to a model. His father Stanislov Chebotar is reportedly a wealthy businessman, and appears in the Panama Papers leak of offshore account information.

Michael Chebotar did not respond to The Times of Israel’s request for comment.

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