A gang accused of supplying fake passports to some of the UK’s most notorious criminals and fugitives has been arrested.
Officers arrested 10 people in London and Kent yesterday on suspicion of supplying fraudulent passports to hundreds of criminals, following an investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
The group are believed to have supplied fake documents to criminals, including Michael Moogan – one of the UK’s most wanted men who was on the run for eight years – and Jamie Acourt, a suspect in the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
They are also understood to have helped dozens of others and enabled international drug and firearm traffickers to cross borders and conduct business undetected.
In an operation that involved more than 250 officers, police swooped on addresses in Sutton, Sydenham, Rotherhithe, Hackney, Battersea and Hayes in Kent in the early hours of Monday.
Nine people were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice and making false instruments. All were aged between 34 and 71.
A 66-year-old man, who is suspected of acting as a broker between criminals seeking to buy fake passports and the gang that supplied them, was also arrested at his home address in Sydenham.
The arrests come after the NCA worked closely with the UK’s passport office and the Dutch National Police.
NCA officers allege the group specialised in fraudulently-obtained genuine passports – documents that are issued authentically but have been applied for using false information.
The NCA allege the group obtained passports by finding people who were willing to sell their details for passport applications.
It is believed payments up to £2,000 were made to those willing to provide their identity.
Among the gang’s suspected clients are members of high-profile Irish and Scottish organised crime groups.
Richard Burdett, who was jailed last month alongside his brother Daniel after an NCA investigation which found they had arranged the importation of 16 pistols and automatic weapons into the UK, is among suspected clients.
As is Jamie Acourt, who was among the men suspected of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in south-east London, in April 1993.
Acourt and his brother were among the five suspects but charges against the pair were dropped due to lack of evidence.
In 2017, Acourt went on the run to Spain after being linked to a major drug smuggling ring. He was later extradited back to the UK and in 2018 was jailed for nine years on drugs offences.
Michael Moogan, who was on the run for eight years for his involvement in an international drug trafficking plot, is also among the suspected clients.
Another 14 people, suspected of receiving the passports or helping the group were also arrested on Monday in Kent, Essex and Merseyside.
They were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to make a false instrument and are aged between 38 and 73.
Jacque Beer, NCA regional head of investigations, said the operation was one of the agency’s ‘most significant investigations of recent times’.
He said: ‘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.’
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