A ring of 24 crooks who printed forged passports for mobsters have been rounded up by cops.
The gang, accused of helping scores of the UK’s most notorious organised criminals to slip through customs checks, has been held by a National Crime Agency investigation.
Among those it helped evade capture were Jamie Acourt, from Eltham, a suspect in the murder of Stephen Lawrence, who in December 2018 pleaded guilty to heading up a £4m drugs plot. He is facing another year behind bars after failing to fork over £90,000 he made in a £2.1 million drugs plot.
Officers believe the racketeers provided hundreds of UK passports that enabled criminals – including fugitives from UK justice and international drug and firearm traffickers – to cross borders and conduct business undetected.
A 66-year-old man from Sydenham, arrested at his home this morning, is suspected of acting as a broker between criminals seeking to buy the passports and crime group members that supplied them.
Nine people accused of being 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 National Crime Agency (NCA) officers, working closely with the HM Passport Office and the Dutch National Police, have been monitoring the group’s movements. They have provided intelligence on 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 also include Michael Moogan – one of the UK’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 organised 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 UK.
NCA officers allege the group specialised in fraudulently-obtained genuine passports (FOGs) – documents 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 today 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.
This morning’s operation, which involved more than 250 officers, follows a lengthy investigation by the NCA into the criminal network codenamed Operation Strey. Today’s 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 organised criminality in the UK 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 UK 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 organised 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 organised 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 UK border one of the most effective and secure in the world, which will also support our ambition of dismantling ruthless organised crime groups.”
Pictured, top, Richard Burdett /NCA
|List of arrests:
1) DOB 01/10/1955, of Collingtree Road, Sydenham, SE26 (Video attached)
2) DOB 24/07/1981, of Circus Road West, London SW11
3) DOB 23/12/1961, of Kirkdale, Sydenham, SE26
4) DOB 16/06/1950, of Westminster Road, Sutton, Surrey, SM1
5) DOB 02/08/1959, of Westminster Road, Sutton, Surrey, SM1
6) DOB 05/05/1987, of Elgar Street, London, SE16
7) DOB 23/07/1969, of Mounthurst Road, Hayes, Kent, BR2
8) DOB 24/03/1965, of Matlock Crescent, Cheam, Surrey, SM3
9) DOB 08/11/1949, of Homerton Road, London, E9
10) DOB 31/10/1967, of Leesons Way, Orpington, Kent, BR5
Details of other arrests:
1) DOB 23/08/1975, of Ector Road, London SE6
2) DOB 02/12/1947, of Lawn Terrace, London SE3
3) DOB 02/02/1965, of Fenwick Road, London SE15
4) DOB 16/03/1960, of Keyworth Street, London SE1
5) DOB 19/12/1951, of Perry Spring, Harlow, Essex
6) DOB 04/01/1974, of Uxbridge Road, London W12
7) DOB 14/08/1981, of Vanderbilt Road, London SW18
8) DOB 20/07/1958, of Pembury Road, London E5
9) DOB 27/03/1962, of Bonner Road, London E2
10)DOB 24/07/1981, of Dove Close, Chatham, Kent
11)DOB 16/06/1974, of Duke Street, Margate, Kent
12) DOB 03/09/1976, of Union Street, London SE1
13)DOB 11/01/1983, of September Road, Liverpool
14)DOB 04/06/1983, of Ironside Road, Liverpool
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