MANILA, Philippines — Philippine police arrested nearly 500 people, including eight Israeli nationals, who they say were involved in an online investment fraud that victimized people overseas, including in Australia and South Africa, police said Thursday.
In one of the Philippines' biggest anti-cybercrime busts in years, police chief Oscar Albayalde said 474 Filipino employees and the Israelis were taken into custody following the raid on three buildings in Clark Freeport, a former U.S. Air Force base north of Manila, where the alleged online fraud was committed.
The suspects lured victims into investing in foreign stocks in a purportedly flourishing London-based company then took their money through an online app after obtaining their bank account and credit card details, said Chief Superintendent Marni Marcos, who heads the national police Anti-Cybercrime Group.
The Israeli men were arrested "while in the act of managing, operating and manning the three target buildings" while the Filipinos were caught communicating and doing online transactions with foreign clients from Europe, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Russia, Albayalde said in a statement.
Police video shows officers with assault rifles, backed by special forces units, barging into a vast office and repeatedly yelling "Hands up!" while ordering some of the suspects not to touch their computers. Some of the Israelis could be seen being led away in handcuffs.
Police seized evidence from the computers showing they were "engaged in a fraudulent online trading activity that involves millions of U.S. dollars victimizing other foreign nationals all over the world," Albayalde said. State prosecutors were assessing criminal complaints against the suspects.
Some foreign victims traveled to the Philippines and reported to the police details of the alleged fraud after obtaining information from some disgruntled syndicate members, Marcos told reporters.