German 'fake police' phone scams traced to Lebanon

Nine arrested in Beirut after German detectives seek international arrest warrant over fake calls

German police are on the trail of dozens of suspected crime clans of which several have links to Lebanon or Turkey. Getty Images
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Fake police officers targeting elderly Germans in a phone scam have been traced to a call centre in Lebanon.

Nine people were arrested in Beirut after a member of the Miri clan – one of Germany’s prominent underworld families with roots in Lebanon – was identified as the call centre’s operator.

Detectives in Germany had assumed the calls – in which older people are duped into handing over money or gold bars to scammers – were coming from Turkey after previous arrests there.

But the investigation was widened to Lebanon, culminating in an international arrest warrant, after an alleged scam operative in Germany was discovered taking a flight to Beirut.

“Wherever they go and wherever they hide, they will never be safe,” vowed Kai Graeber, a prosecutor in Munich, where investigators announced the breakthrough on Tuesday.

German police have reported a succession of scams in which people are told a relative needs bail money after causing a fatal accident. In their shock, some have been tricked into giving cash to strangers.

A variant is for the scammers to claim people’s savings are unsafe because they are on a criminal hit list or their bank is in league with fraudsters, persuading them to hand over the money to an intermediary in person.

Trail to Beirut

The arrest of one of these low-level “collectors” in Munich began the trail that led to Beirut when it emerged she worked for a Turkish call centre, said Desiree Schelshorn from a Munich police department investigating the scams.

She revealed she was recruited by an operative at the call centre in Mersin, Turkey, whose mother lived in Germany and was subjected to threats when her son was accused of embezzling €10,000 ($10,680) from the scammers.

The person making the threats turned out to be a recruiter for the call centre who was seen accompanying an operative to a German airport, who in turn was discovered to have flown to Beirut.

This chain of suspects led the Munich investigators to the call centre in Lebanon, which they discovered was run by a German citizen who belonged to the Miri clan.

Armed with that evidence, they sent an international arrest warrant to Lebanon and were informed two weeks later that nine people aged between 21 and 46 had been arrested, of whom seven remain in investigative custody.

Lebanese authorities have expressed interest in further co-operation with Germany, Ms Schelshorn said.

Mr Graeber said Germany was seeking the extradition of at least one of the suspects after the raids on September 18, in which laptops, phones and ID documents were recovered.

He said it was the eighth call centre shut down since 2015, of which several were traced to Turkey. One case involved fake emails being sent in the name of Holger Muench, the chief of Germany’s federal criminal police.

The latest case "underlines the determination" of investigators to go after criminals who "dupe and exploit German citizens", he said.

Germany revealed last month it was investigating 46 suspected criminal clans, of which many have origins in Lebanon and Turkey. Of these, 20 are classified as concerning the Mhallami ethnic group, part of an Arabic-speaking minority in Turkey that also has a presence in Lebanon.

Five members of another notorious gang with links to Lebanon, the Remmo family, were convicted in May of carrying out the audacious Green Vault heist, in which priceless treasures were stolen from a Dresden museum in 2019.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cabinet last month signed off a plan to deport gang members if they have proven links to the underworld, even if they themselves have no criminal convictions.

Updated: November 07, 2023, 1:36 PM