Police have targeted a gang suspected of supplying fraudulent passports to notorious fugitives and criminals from Liverpool.
Yesterday the National Crime Agency (NCA) led a wave of raids across the country when they arrested 23 people during an operation which involved hundreds of officers.
Two warrants were executed in Merseyside during the raids.
The NCA believes the south east England based crime group specialised in fraudulently-obtained genuine passports (FOGs) – documents which are issued authentically but have been applied for using false information.
The gang paid thousands of pounds to individuals willing to sell their personal details for passport applications.
Liverpool brothers Daniel and Richard Burdett, who conspired to smuggle firearms into the UK from Holland, are suspected of sourcing fake passports from the London based gang.
Richard entered Holland on a bogus passport and Daniel was a fugitive in the country while Merseyside Police pursued him in relation to drugs offences.
Richard was later arrested in Amsterdam, when Dutch Police checked his passport and realised it was false.
Daniel was held as he sat down for dinner in a luxury restaurant in The Hague on Christmas Day.
The Burdetts, from north Liverpool, were recently jailed for 43 years during a hearing at Manchester Crown Court after they were caught by the NCA.
Daniel, 30, was sentenced to 25 years for possession with intent to supply cocaine and ketamine, a plot which dated back to a 2014, and importation of prohibited goods.
Richard, 35, was sentenced to 18 years for importation of prohibited goods and fraudulently obtaining a passport.
Police also believe that Croxteth man Michael Moogan, who was arrested in Dubai earlier this year, sourced a fraudulent passport from the London based gang.
Moogan was arrested on suspicion of drug conspiracy offences and is now facing extradition back to the UK. The NCA suspect Moogan of conspiring to import drugs from Latin America into Europe.
Other suspected clients of the group include well known London gangster Jamie Acourt, who was arrested in Spain in 2018 and later jailed for nine years for drugs offences.
The group is also suspected of providing the passports to members of high-profile Irish and Scottish organised crime groups.
A team of NCA officers, working closely with the HM Passport Office and the Dutch National Police, have been monitoring the crime group.
They have provided intelligence on FOG passports being used by fugitives which has led to numerous arrests across Europe, Dubai, Australia, Thailand and Brazil.
The NCA led a major day of action against the group yesterday. Police provided details about the arrest of a 66-year-old man from Sydenham in south east London 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 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.
Another 14 people, suspected of receiving the FOGs or assisting the group through countersigning documents they knew to be fraudulent, were arrested by the NCA in Kent, Essex and Merseyside. They were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to make a false instrument. The NCA said they are aged between 38 and 73.
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.”
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