From Pakistan: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Tuesday arrested four suspects believed to have been involved in a fake passport scam carried out by a Lahore-based politician and other officials.
UK-based tabloid The Sun had claimed to have unearthed a scam on Monday, involving a “Lahore-based politician” and other officials, wherein Pakistani nationals were brought into England under the garb of participants and officials accompanying the Pakistani Olympics delegation for the summer 2012 games – set to start on Friday.
A case has been registered against the four men in FIA’s anti-woman trafficking circle. They will be investigated by the agency.
One of the suspects is a National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) official, while the remaining three are passports agents.
Several raiding teams of the FIA have been constituted and further raids are expected.
A team of senior Nadra officials has also arrived in Lahore to facilitate the investigations.
According to an exclusive report of a sting operation published in The Sun (below), a journalist allegedly broke into “a crime ring offering false passports, visas — and access to London 2012 as bogus support staff.”
The Sun had alleged that Lahore-based politician Abid Chaudhry offered its undercover reporter in Pakistan the chance to go to the Olympics posing as an official member of the Pakistani contingent on a two-month visa in return for a million rupees ($10,000).
The crime ring had been under investigation after the daily informed UK intelligence, MI6, the Home Office, the UK Border Agency and the British High Commission in Islamabad.
From Britain: A visa scam giving potential terrorists the chance to sneak into Britain with Pakistan’s Olympic team has been smashed by The Sun.
We infiltrated a crime ring offering false passports, visas — and access to London 2012 as bogus support staff.
We uncovered a ring of corrupt Pakistani officials and travel staff conspiring with a prominent politician to bypass stringent security.
First they provided our undercover investigator with a genuine Pakistani passport in a false name.
Then leading Lahore politician Abid Chodhary spelled out how for around £7,000 he could get our man a two-month visa — and smuggle him into London 2012 as part of Pakistan’s Olympic squad.
The Sun secretly filmed Mr Chodhary as he explained how easy it was to get into the Olympic Village by masquerading as a member of the athletes’ support team.
We were told we could even take part in Friday’s opening ceremony.
At no point did any of the corrupt officials question our reason for wanting to sneak into Britain.
An investigation was under way yesterday after we alerted MI6, the Home Office, the UK Border Agency and the British High Commission in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.
One intelligence operative said: “The Sun has unearthed a sophisticated network of corruption. The idea of unknown agents being flown in to the UK to be put up in the Olympic Village beggars belief.
“Terrorists would have the biggest platform to perform their atrocities. A member of al-Qaeda could fly to the UK on a genuine passport in another name and the authorities would be none the wiser.
“For all of our sakes this staggering loophole needs closing fast.”
Our investigation centred on the Lahore-based Dream Land travel agency — prosecuted nine years ago for human trafficking.
We approached one of its staff and a meeting was arranged in Lahore with a fixer called Bobby.
Bobby bragged that for £600 in Pakistani rupees he could get us dodgy travel documents.
The next day he took our man to the National Database Registration Authority — Pakistan’s passport agency — in a Lahore suburb.
Bobby explained a scan of the database had identified a Pakistani — of a similar age to The Sun’s man — who had either died or his passport and ID card had expired.
Our man’s photograph and fingerprints were taken. His new identity would be in the name of Muhammad Ali, born November 8, 1977.
As The Sun’s undercover man was led from desk to desk in two separate passport and ID card offices it became clear up to 12 people were in on the scam at this single centre.
One official, who entered incorrect data into the computer system, even sheepishly admitted: “I shouldn’t be doing this.”
After a cash deposit was paid, the new documents were rubber stamped by a leading official. He signed a form stating he had met Muhammad Ali and his identification was genuine.
The paperwork was sent on to Islamabad. But two days later Bobby rang us with a problem.
An official in Islamabad was saying our man’s photo was nothing like the image of the real Muhammad Ali on the database.
Another photo shoot was arranged to capture a better likeness.
Within three days Bobby was back in touch to say the passport was ready. It was handed over in the back of a car after the balance of the cash was paid.
The new document was like any other genuine Pakistani passport.
Bobby did not flinch when we then asked if we could have another passport made for an Ali Atwa — the name of a fanatic on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.
He merely insisted anything was possible for the right money.
Bobby added: “We make you another one in any name you like. It just takes a few more days. We have the right people in the right places and it is impossible to get caught because the passports are the real thing.”
The racketeers said getting a dodgy visa for the UK was just as easy.
We were told they planned to use the Pakistan Olympic team’s arrival in London as a possible means of smuggling people into Britain.
A meeting was set up between our man and Mr Chodhary, who has links to the government-run Pakistan Sports Board.
Mr Chodhary confirmed it would be easy for our man to slip into the UK by posing as an Olympic support staff member.
He said it would cost 150,000 rupees — just over £1,000 — for an official letter saying we were part of the squad.
And the total cost of the letter and a visa for two months would be a million rupees — close to £7,000.
Mr Chodhary urged us to act quickly. He added: “Tomorrow is the last day. You have to give me the passport, that is the deadline for the tournament. I will sort the letter from the Pakistan Sports Board.
“It will cost you 150,000 rupees for the letter. The visa will be for two months.”
Mr Chodhary said half the money must be paid in advance.
He added: “There are lots of people in the queue to get out of the country.”
The Sun has been told dodgy travel agency staff work hand-in-hand with corrupt officials across many levels of government in Pakistan.
Some are alleged to be involved in the stamping of visas at the British Embassy in Islamabad.
It is thought the ring we infiltrated has allowed scores of people to travel worldwide on bogus papers.
In the wake of The Sun’s findings, the authorities are attempting to discover how many rogue travellers have already sneaked into the UK.
We were told the names of individuals currently living in London after buying dodgy documents in Pakistan.
Bobby boasted of giving one man in the UK four passports — all in different names.
Dream Land boss Malik Bashir was jailed in 2003 after a US inquiry. He admitted sending clients to the UK, US and Canada on false passports.
The Home Office yesterday praised The Sun’s investigation. It added: “We thank The Sun for highlighting this attempted abuse and will be handing the evidence straight over to the Pakistani authorities.
“Olympic delegation lists are tightly controlled and are provided by each participating country so we know which Games Family Members are coming well in advance. It is a system with stringent checks in it, including requiring an individual’s fingerprints. They can’t be forged.
“We also have highly-trained staff based in Pakistan working with local authorities rooting out abuse and forged documentation.
“We can stop people of concern boarding planes to the UK and regularly deny access at the UK border.”