Journalists from Rise Project travelled to Denmark where they infiltrated a criminal group composed of Romanians living in Copenhagen. Going undercover for three weeks, they discovered the criminal group’s strategies of using theft, burglary and identity theft to commit complex financial frauds. The investigation resulted in a documentary produced with the help of the Danish publication Ekstra Bladet and broadcast on TV3 Denmark.
After a thirty-eight hour journey by bus to Copenhagen, RISE Project reporters booked a room at a hotel called “Continent,” a budget accommodation hosting mostly immigrants in search of a better life abroad. The hotel became well-known in Denmark after it became public that murders had taken place on its premises.
Continent Hotel is located in Nørrebro, a neighborhood known in Copenhagen for its black market exchange for jewelry, guns and high-risk drugs in addition to prostitution. It is also a neighborhood mostly populated by the local Muslim community. Jihadists living in Nørrebro were behind armed attacks on Danish journalists and cartoonists.
On arriving at the hotel, the reporters were greeted by Caterina, a Polish women who already knew a few Romanian words due to the hundreds of Romanians guests who have stayed at the hotel over the years. She said many Romanians come here for the “five-finger-discount,” a reference to stealing. Everyone laughed, and after a few moments she said that the phenomenon inspired her to name her cat “Bandit.”
The Continent is a five-story hotel with only one bathroom on each floor, yet it was still fully booked with over one hundred guests. Each room hosted several people, some contained as many eight beds. The filth permeated everything. During the investigation, one of the journalists got fleas.
The following day, the reporters put on their dingiest clothes, took several hidden cameras and went for a walk in search of Romanian thieves.
In most of the world’s largest cities, train stations have an abnormally high crime rate. For this reason, the reporters headed toward the station. They spotted a dark haired Romanian looking figure among an entire boulevard filled with blonde Scandinavians. His name was Roberto and he was from Bucharest. The two reporters approached him.
“Do you know where is the… (continued in Romanian)…how do you say train station?” said one reporter.
“Hey, are you Romanians? You can speak Romanian then!” said Roberto.
The friendship started. The reporters discovered Roberta was from the Titan neighborhood of Bucharest, and had come to Denmark a few years back after “some problems with the law in Italy.”
The reporters told Roberto they had come to Denmark to “work,” and that they have no education and would do anything for some Danish Crowns.
Roberto gave a short introductory speech on how to survive in Copenhagen. Over the next hour, while walking around with Roberto, the reporters were taught how they could survive without worrying about living expenses or other financial burdens in one of the world’s most expensive cities .
“At this exchange store you can exchange Euro into Danish Crowns with no commission. At this pawn shop you can sell gold at the best price, if you have any. These Arabs will buy any phone you get. Here you can find cheap underwear. There you can buy cheap sweat suits. At this place you can eat for free if you say you’re doing drugs. You get free shoes here. And here you can get a free room.”
Roberto gave the reporters two “essential” pieces of advice. “Never carry cash, because if they search you they’ll confiscate if you can’t justify it. And don’t go to the embassy, or they’ll expel you.”
Roberto took the two reporters to St. Mary’s Church, a place with the cheapest coffee around and where many Romanian thieves and beggars meet.
The church was full of people who came to Denmark to steal. Some of them had phones. Others knew how to break the phone’s access codes. Women smelled sample bottles of perfume and made plans to send them back home.
There, the lesson continued from a man named Gelu.
“Once you get your hands on an iPhone with an iCloud account, you turn it off immediately and send it back home to sell its parts. Until then, you wrap it in tinfoil so it’s not detectable by satellite, because they can trace you down.” Everyone knew that a stolen iPhone with an active iCloud account could turn you into a police “victim.”
The thieves were primarily focused on phones and bags with laptops. Gelu, however, used what he called his “pianists hands” to do something different. He was robbing drunk people of their watches.
Gelu shines shoes in Copenhagen’s old town until 3AM each day for ten crowns. But after 3AM, when people are drunk, he switches jobs and starts stealing.
On one of the tables in St. Mary’s church, Gelu showed the reporters a Patek Philippe watch, one of the most expensive Swiss watch brands.
Most Patek Philippe watches cost over fifteen thousand dollars. Gelu said he had sold a Rolex to some Arabs for two thousand dollars. He said he just found the watch on the cycling path. With 350 kilometers of cycling paths in Copenhagen, the reporters doubted he found that story. They convinced him to have a watch expert verify its authenticity.
Gelu was supposed to return to Romania in twenty four hours, taking the watch with him. The reporters, already professional thieves in everyone’s eyes, proposed a deal: If they could find a client for the 18 karat gold Patek Philippe watch before he left could they take a twenty percent cut in the sale? The starting price on the black market is five thousand euros and the reporters’ share would be one thousand euros (and a bottle of wine).
There wasn’t enough time to find a real watch expert, so one of the Ekstra Bladet journalists went to a fancy restaurant in the center of Copenhagen to pose as the expert. Another journalist sat with a camera at a different table pretending to be a tourist overwhelmed by the restaurant’s extensive menu.
RISE Project reporters entered the restaurant with Gelu to negotiate with the watch expert. Video footage and the photographs taken during the meeting demonstrated that Gelu’s uncle had sent him a fake Patek Philippe from Switzerland.
Viorel from Sibiu – From the iPhone 6 to Complex Tax Fraud
Gelu, Roberto and the other thieves hanging around St. Mary’s church were disorganized, each stealing or begging on his own.
However, at the Continent Hotel, the RISE Project reporters managed to get in touch with an organized group of thieves.
Each evening, the undercover reporters were spending time with different Romanians staying at the hotel: hackers, thieves, beggars, pimps and prostitutes.
One of the thieves, Viorel, who begged during the day, actually served as a link to an important organized crime group. Only 23 years old, he was from Arpașu de Sus village in Sibiu County Romania, where he had a wife, child and large household.
Begging is illegal in Denmark, but the social protection service has made it possible for beggars to sell certain magazines they buy for less than 10 Romanian lei (about two euro) for up to 100 lei.
Viorel and his family have been doing this for over two years. Before Denmark, they worked in Italy. Viorel told the reporters that he would go to the South of Italy with his uncle, Danciu Grancea, and obtain fake IDs with deceased people’s names. With the new, Italian IDs, they would borrow luxurious cars, re-register them in Romania and sell them for a better price.
After an investigation, they were caught and arrested. But their case was closed after a prosecutor decided not to open criminal investigations. Viorel said that the prosecutor had been bribed.
Danciu Grancea, Viorel’s uncle, also had other crimes on his record including currency counterfeiting.
A criminal file put together by the Romanian Prosecutors Office attached to the Odorheiu Secuiesc Court states that Danciu Grancea received a one year and six month suspended jail sentence. He was caught in possession of 9,600 counterfeit euro in a supermarket parking lot in Sibiu after purchasing 3,500 in fake Euro. According to telephone conversations listed in his file, Danciu was planning to buy and put into circulation an additional 40,000 fake euro.
Viorel said that after all these incidents, his uncle decided to stop doing business in Romania and moved with his family to Denmark.
Each night, Viorel shared with the two reporters his experiences stealing. He explained how he stole telephones together with other groups of Romanians; how he stole bicycles that he later sold in Romania; and how his begging is, actually, a cover job that helps him commit more serious crimes.
The money made by Viorel Căldărar and his uncle, Daniel Grancea, was invested in Romania in purchasing land and a small cattle and horse farm.
Viorel took one of the RISE reporters in his room at the Continent Hotel to show him his money. He had, in total, over 470 million old Romanian Lei. He got all this money together with his parents in just one month.
Danciu Grancea, from Mailat to Ali Yaser
Danciu Grancea is no longer working with his nephew. He has business with several Arabs he met in Denmark. Among them is the Syrian Ali Abdulhussein Yesar.
Danciu rents homes from Ali Yesar, where Danciu takes in beggars and robbers who either work for him or pay rent.
RISE reporters went several times to Danciu’s house on the outskirts of Copenhagen. Over sixty Romanians lived in the eight-room house.The smell was so unpleasant and living conditions so bad Danciu made a separate entrance for only his and his family’s use.
One of the reporters told Danciu he knew how to break iCloud accounts. Soon after, people living in the house handed him several stolen phones. They were all kept in tinfoil so that they could not be detected by satellite.
Because he could not make enough money from only stealing and rent, Danciu Grancea made himself the link between poor Romanians and the Arab community in Denmark. On the wall of his house near the entrance were several mail boxes with the names of Arab citizens.
Danciu’s Romanians were paid 4000 euro each and used as facilitators in ghost companies involved in tax fraud and money laundering. The house where Danciu lived was even the registered place of business for some of those companies.
One of the reporters told Danciu he wanted to get into this business by coming a facilitator for one of the group’s companies.
The reporter would become the director of a ghost company in exchange for 5000 euro from the Arab. 1000 euro would be Danciu’s cut.
“Do you speak English?” Danciu asked the reporter.
“Yes,” said the reporter.
“That’s very good because you can go to the bank and where else there is to go all by yourself, and this could bring more money,” said Danciu.
The reporter earned Danciu’s trust by telling him that he also has a criminal record and many friends who wished to earn lots of money fast. He told Danciu he could bring groups of people to commit financial fraud. All those people could have companies on their names. Danciu admitted he was not sure what the companies actually did, but he was certain that the Arabs were stealing lots of money from banks and the Danish state.
Every company opened in a Romanian’s name takes in a few million Danish Crowns. Afterward, it is closed down and the director either disappears or takes over another company. Legal sources confirmed to the Ekstra Bladet journalists that the names of Danciu Grancea and Ali Yesar are monitored by the authorities for tax evasion and money laundering.
The Danish Police did not mention the exact financial damage the Ali Yesar – Danciu network has done, but confirmed it was about “several million Danish Crown.”
RISE Project reporters contacted Andrei Rosuș, one of the facilitators used by the Arabs in money laundering. Rosuș had been the manager of Sumer Exchange & Travel company for six months. “Don’t think I did that willingly. I was forced to go to the banks and sign all those documents,” said Rosuș.
The Danish reporters interviewed Danciu Grancea and Viorel Căldărar. None of them admitted to having ever done anything illegal in Denmark. Viorel Căldărar’s father said he once stole something from a supermarket – “some salami” – and added that he still regrets it.
Three weeks after the confrontation with Danciu Grancea, the house where the beggars and thieves were brought to in Denmark had been abandoned. Some of the former occupants returned to Romania, others are still “working” in Copenhagen.
Victor Ilie, Sergiu Brega