Ilford woman suspected of running illegal passport empire for people smugglers is released under investigation

PUBLISHED: 17:15 19 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:15 19 March 2019

The womas is alleged to have countersigned around 500 British passports. Credit:Katie Collins/PA

The womas is alleged to have countersigned around 500 British passports. Credit:Katie Collins/PA

PA Wire/PA Images

An Ilford woman alleged to have built an empire out of obtaining hundreds of UK passports for kidnappers, drug traffickers and people smugglers has been released under investigation.

National Crime Agency (NCA) officers arrested a woman from Albania on suspicion of fraud offences and perverting the course of justice at an east London address yesterday, March 18.

Officers allege that the woman built a business using a fake identity and countersigned around 500 of UK passport applications for Albanian organised crime groups involved in drug trafficking, people smuggling, human trafficking, child abuse, kidnapping and serious violence.

The arrest came as part of a NCA-led multi-agency day of action, targeting a criminal network suspected of facilitating British citizenship and passports, false accounting and money laundering.

Andrea Wilson, the NCA’s regional head of investigations, said: “Targeting professional enablers who provide services to organised crime groups is a high priority for the NCA.

“We believe this network has provided criminals with a way to obtain UK passports, giving them the means to commit serious crime and travel around under the law enforcement radar.”

Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO), Border Force, and Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) were also involved in the operation.

Immigration and Compliance Enforcement (ICE) officials visited ten different businesses across London and the South of England, including restaurants, bars and car washes, believed to be associated with the criminal network.

Nine people were arrested and detained for immigration offences, while six businesses were issued with a civil penalty referral notice.

“Working with partners has allowed us to disrupt this network and ultimately stop them from fuelling organised crime and destroying communities,” Ms Wilson added.

“We are continuing our investigation into the wider network and to track down those in receipt of these passports - I want to be clear that our work to disrupt organised criminals trying to flout the justice system does not stop here.”

Tony Eastaugh, director of crime enforcement at the Home Office, said: “We will not tolerate criminal gangs who attempt to evade the UK’s immigration controls and allow dangerous foreign offenders to live and work in the UK.

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