Italian police have arrested 21 people accused of participating in a massive online banking fraud that could have cost the Sicilian regional government more than one trillion lire (£319.27 million), Italian authorities said yesterday.
Members of a criminal group with links to Cosa Nostra allegedly succeeded in "cloning" an online branch of the Banco di Sicilia and were preparing to remove funds from an account belonging to the Sicilian regional government, officials said.
With the complicity of two bank employees and using stolen computer files, codes and passwords, the organization managed to penetrate the bank's information systems, said Mario Bo, director of the organised crime unit of the Palermo police mobile squad.
"They carried out successful technical trials a few days ago" and were able to enter the bank's system, Bo said in a telephone interview. The accomplices on the bank staff would switch off the bank's personal computer at a prearranged time so that the "clone" could take over its role, he said. Technicians of the national carrier Telecom Italia also assisted the criminals, police said.
The group allegedly was planning to steal 264 billion lire from the bank, officials said. The account contained European Union structural funds for regional development, and the money was to be transferred to a bank in the Bologna area, and from there, to bank accounts abroad, investigators said in a prepared statement.
Police reportedly learned of the operation from informants who heard rumours that a criminal gang was seeking the assistance of dishonest bank directors to help them pull off their virtual heist. An undercover police officer posing as a bank manager obligingly offered his services.