A gang that supplied fraudulent passports to some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including one of the suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder, has been smashed by the National Crime Agency.
Ten people have been arrested on suspicion of peddling fraudulent documents which allowed gangsters to travel internationally and avoid detection.
Among those believed to have benefitted was Jamie Acourt, one of the members of the gang suspected of carrying out the racist murder of black teenager, Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
In 2017 Acourt went on the run to Spain after being named by police as a suspect in a major cannabis dealing ring.
It is believed he was able to slip out of the UK by travelling on false documents.
Acourt was eventually arrested in Barcelona in 2018 and after being extradited back to the UK was jailed for nine years.
Fugitive arrested in Dubai after eight years on the run
Michael Moogan, one of the UK’s most wanted fugitives, who was arrested in Dubai in April after eight years on the run, was another suspected client of the passport gang.
Investigators believe the fraudsters had been responsible for supplying hundreds of fake documents to drug dealers, firearms traffickers and international gangsters.
The passports, while genuine, had allegedly been obtained using fraudulent information, making them highly sought after by international criminals.
The gang operated by identifying people willing to sell their personal details. It is thought they paid up to £2,000 for the information.
The NCA carried out a series of raids and arrested a 66-year-old man in Sydenham on suspicion of acting as a broker between the passport gang and their criminal clients.
Nine people, between the ages of 34 and 71, were detained across the South East on suspicion of perverting the course of justice by supplying the fake documents.
A further 14 people were arrested on suspicion of countersigning documents they knew to be false.
‘Group’s activities enabled some of the most serious organised crime around the world’
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.”
Damian Hinds, the security minister, 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.”