A gang accused of supplying fraudulent passports to Britains most notorious criminals and fugitives, including a suspect in the murder of Stephen Lawrence, have been arrested.
The gang is accused of supplying passports to clients including Stephen Lawrence murder suspect Jamie Acourt and one of Britain’s most wanted men and cocaine trafficker Michael Moogan, who was on the run for eight years.
The group is also suspected of providing the passports to Richard Burdett, who was jailed last month alongside his brother Daniel after an NCA investigation found they had arranged the importation of 16 pistols and automatic weapons into the UK.
Officers carried out raids in London and Kent today after an investigation by the National Crime Agency
Ten people accused of supplying fraudulent passports to Britains most notorious criminals were arrested by police today
A 66-year-old man from Sydenham was arrested at his home address this morning after the NCA carried out a series of raids.
He is 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 also detained on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice and making false instruments. They are aged between 34 and 71.
Officers at the NCA allege the group obtained the passports by sourcing individuals who were willing to sell their personal 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 was Jamie Acourt, who was among the men suspected of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, 18, in Eltham, south east London, in April 1993.
Acourt and his brother were among the five suspects of the racist murder but the 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 jailed in 2018 after police discovered he was living in Barcelona under an alias and had a passport in that name.
Earlier this year a court heard how, after police busted the drug ring in 2016, Acourt escaped capture in the UK by hiding in the back of a car as he passed through border security and was sofa surfing in Barcelona until eventually renting a flat with two others.
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.
He was featured in Operation Captura’s most wanted fugitives campaign after a raid on a Dutch cafe in 2013 which was used as a front by an international drug cartel.
Among the gang’s suspected clients was Jamie Acourt (left), who was among the men suspected of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and Michael Moogan, who was on the run for eight years for his involvement in an international drug trafficking plot
He was finally apprehended on April 21 this year in Dubai as a result of a joint operation between Dubai Police and the NCA.
Another 14 people were also arrested today in Kent, Essex and Merseyside on suspicion of conspiracy to make a false instrument.
The operation, which involved more than 250 officers, follows a lengthy investigation by the NCA into the criminal network codenamed Operation Strey.
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.’