A criminal enterprise that supplied fraudulent passports to some of the U.K.’s most notorious organized criminals has been dismantled by a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation.
Officers believe the crime group provided hundreds of U.K. passports that enabled criminals – including fugitives from U.K. justice and international drug and firearm traffickers – to cross borders and conduct business undetected.
A 66-year-old man from Sydenham, who splits his time between Spain, the U.K. and Ireland, was arrested at his home address on October 11. He is suspected of acting as a broker between criminals seeking to buy the passports and crime group members that supplied them.
Nine people believed to be members of the crime group were also detained on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice and making false instruments in NCA raids in Sutton, Sydenham, Rotherhithe, Hackney, Battersea and Hayes (Kent). They are aged between 34 and 71.
A team of NCA officers, working closely with Her Majesty’s Passport Office and the Dutch National Police, have been monitoring the group’s movements. They have provided intelligence on fraudulently-obtained genuine (FOG) passports being used by fugitives which has led to numerous arrests across Europe, and further afield in Dubai, Australia, Thailand and Brazil.
Suspected clients of the group include Jamie Acourt, who was arrested in Spain in 2018 and later jailed for nine years for drug offenses, and Michael Moogan – one of the U.K.’s most wanted fugitives who was arrested in Dubai in April 2021.
The group is also suspected of providing the passports to members of high-profile Irish and Scottish organized crime groups, and to Richard Burdett, who was jailed last month alongside his brother Daniel after an NCA investigation found they had arranged the importation of 16 pistols and automatic weapons into the U.K.
NCA officers allege the group specialized in FOGs which are issued authentically but have been applied for using false information. The result is a seemingly legitimate document, and FOGs are therefore highly sought after by criminals worldwide.
They sourced individuals who were willing to sell their personal details for passport applications. It is believed payments up to £2,000 were made to those willing to provide their identity.
Another 14 people, suspected of receiving the FOGs or assisting the group through countersigning documents they knew to be fraudulent, were arrested on October 11 by the NCA in Kent, Essex and Merseyside. They were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to make a false instrument and are aged between 38 and 73.
The morning’s operation, which involved more than 250 officers, follows a lengthy investigation by the NCA into the criminal network codenamed Operation Strey. The activity was also supported by the Metropolitan Police.
Jacque Beer, NCA Regional Head of Investigations, said:
“This is one of the most significant NCA investigations of recent times. We believe that this group’s activities has enabled some of the most serious organized criminality in the U.K. and around the world.
“Today’s operation has dismantled a criminal service that let drug and firearm traffickers, suspected murderers, and fugitives evade detection and operate internationally under false identities.
“It hasn’t just broken up a widespread and deep-rooted criminal conspiracy; it has led to the strengthening of safeguards against criminal exploitation of the U.K. passport issuing system. Our investigation, which continues with the evidence we have gathered today, showcases the NCA’s role in leading the law enforcement system against serious and organized crime; targeting the elite criminal specialists presenting the biggest threat to the UK.”
Security Minister Damian Hinds said: “This is a fantastic result and will do significant damage to the serious organized crime groups who want to inflict misery on our shores and around the world. The close working between the NCA and Her Majesty’s Passport Office has been at the heart of this hugely successful operation. The government is working to make the U.K. border one of the most effective and secure in the world, which will also support our ambition of dismantling ruthless organized crime groups.”