Police hope for breakthrough into passport fraud ring

Sources in the police immigration section told MaltaToday that the illicit trade in passports and identity papers has spiked since Malta re-opened its borders to travel after the COVID-19 lock-down was eased

Police believe a criminal gang based in Africa is behind almost every recent fake immigration document being intercepted in Malta.

Sources in the police immigration section told MaltaToday that the illicit trade in passports and identity papers has spiked since Malta re-opened its borders to travel after the COVID-19 lock-down was eased.

The majority of these documents are intercepted during sporadic intra-Schengen checks, in particular on travellers to Italy or Germany. “[The direction of travel] is always Schengen to Schengen and never to Africa.”

Recently the black market is also selling genuine documents belonging to third parties, according to law enforcement sources. This is backed up by an increasing number of arraignments on related charges.

And when documents can’t be used, those wanting to use Malta as a springboard into the EU are still finding other ways of evading the authorities. A recent trend is the resurgence of stow-aways in, on, or under trailers heading to Sicily.

The news comes after a string of immigration-related arrests in recent weeks. On Friday, two Sudanese nationals, Adam Mohammed 18 and Eaiis Bosh Nalimaboba 23 were arraigned in court, accused of using genuine documents belonging to third parties. They had been apprehended at the airport as they were trying to catch a Ryanair flight to Naples.

One of the accused had admitted to the police that they had bought the documents for be-tween €500 and €700 from the documents’ original owner. The police are working on tracing this individual, who lives in Malta, the court was told.

In another case, earlier this week, Mohammed Muzammil, a 35-year old Ghanaian national living at Msida, pleaded not guilty to forgery or knowingly possessing three false Portuguese pass-ports, attempting to use them at the Malta International Airport, as well as relapsing.

Malta’s courts generally impose custodial sentences of around 6 months on those who are found guilty of knowingly using false documents to travel to and from the country. Whilst the law enforcement aspect is becoming better at catching passport cheats, the law is not proving to be an effective deterrent.

Police say headway is being made in finding the masterminds behind the false documents.

Efforts to trace the sources of the false documents are making steady progress, said a member of the immigration section, with those arrested and charged with possession and use of the forged documentation pointing to several sources.

“Some people are recently claiming to have bought their documents online, but the majority still meet someone in person,” said one police officer. “Descriptions differ – he could be Tuni-sian or from Gambia…They never indicated any Maltese involvement.”

Police say they believe that an organised criminal network is behind the forgeries. “The gang is definitely based in Africa. They are from North or possibly West Africa,” said the officer, adding that he was hopeful for a breakthrough in rolling up this network soon.

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