‘UK-wide gang behind Magherafelt cash machine skimming device’

A skimming device fitted to an ATM (skimmer).

A skimming device fitted to an ATM (skimmer).

Two London-based Romanian men, described as members of an ‘organised travelling crime gang,’ have appeared in court accused of a spree of “sophisticated” ATM frauds across NI including Magherafelt.

Standing handcuffed in the dock of Newry Magistrates Court alongside an interpreter, 46-year-old Iulian Stamate and Andrei Untara (26) confirmed they understood their respective charges.

Stamate, who is listed as a joiner, faces eight charges including one of theft of £240 from Cardtronics, five counts of possessing articles for fraud namely skimming devices, a cloned bank card, blades and two gift cards suspected of being cloned and two of making skimming devices for fraud.

His alleged accomplice Untara, also listed as a joiner, faces 13 offences including the theft of unknown monies from Cardtronics, seven counts of possessing cloned cards, blades and skimming devices for fraud and five counts of making cards and skimming devices for fraud.

The 21 offences are alleged to have occurred on various dates between 16 December last year and 26 May this year all over the province with the court divisions of Belfast, Fermanagh and Tyrone, Craigavon, Armagh and south Down and Derry all named in the particulars of the charges.

Detectives from Organised Crime Branch charged the pair and in court on Saturday, Detective Constable Mawhinney told the court she believe she could connect them to the offences.

Giving evidence to the court, she said police were objecting to the men being released on bail as they were likely to commit further offences, abscond or interfere with the ongoing investigations by disposing of evidence or alerting others who are also suspects.

Describing them as “members of a UK/Republic of Ireland based organised travelling crime gang,” the officer claimed they had been “targeting ATM’s with sophisticated skimming devices” across almost the entirety of Northern Ireland with incidents reported in east Belfast, Portadown, Enniskillen, Rostrevor, Magherafelt and Newry.

In addition, DC Mawhinney said the skimming devices the PSNI had uncovered had similarities to one which was used in the north of England.

Objecting to their release, DC Mawhinney said there were concerns about them reoffending, failing to surrender and obstructing the course of justice.

While their defence solicitor had no questions in cross examination, he submitted that as the police had their passports, “that would be a bar to them leaving the country.”

Refusing bail, District Judge Harry McKibbin said it seemed to him to be a “sophisticated operation...well planned and well thought through.”

“These are not amateurs,” declared the judge adding that he believed there was a “real risk” of them fleeing and committing further crimes.

“I cannot think of any conditions that would guarantee reappearance or non offending in the interim and that being the case, it’s my duty to remand them in custody,” said Judge McKibbin.