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A NEW LIFE IN THE UK FOR pounds 750.

Byline: AMARDEEP BASSEY

A PEOPLE smuggling ring is offering illegal immigrants and fugitives a new life in the Midlands by selling them fake passports.

Our undercover reporter bought a genuine British passport which had been doctored by the gang and was destined for a fugitive criminal believed to be on the run in Spain.

And our investigator was told that for just pounds 750 the Midland-based ring could provide him with his own fake passport.

Last night a West Midlands Police spokesman said: 'The co-operation of the Sunday Mercury means we can now examine the history of the passport and undertake any relevant inquiries.'

The deal was made through a gang associate who said the sellers were linked to an illegal immigrant smuggling ring raided by National Crime Squad detectives last month.

A meeting was set up in a Smethwick pub car park where our reporter was handed the altered document for just pounds 300.

The intermediary said the passport was genuine but had been stolen and that a new photograph had been perfectly inserted. To an untrained eye, it looked an authentic document.

He said: 'The passport had been ordered by a fugitive who had fled to Spain on his own legitimate passport but who now wants to return to the UK.

'He sent the gang four passport-sized photographs of himself so that they could doctor a stolen passport.

'But he hasn't paid for it yet and has been messing the gang around so now they just want to get rid of it.'

He added: 'The people behind this are part of a gang which was seriously disrupted after being raided by police just a few weeks ago.

'The police took quite a lot of evidence with them but there are still quite a few stolen and altered passports they were hoping to sell around.'

Two weeks ago National Crime Squad (NCS) officers arrested 13 people in dawn raids in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich after an 18month investigation.

Migrants were being brought into the UK after posing as singers and dancers who had been booked to perform at Asian social clubs and pubs across the West Midlands.

Once inside the country the fake artistes, who were being charged up to pounds 8,000 for their passage to England, all disappeared.

Police said they had arrested five gang members as well as a number of illegal immigrants after raiding six addresses including Pappu Sweet Centre in Wolverhampton and a meat processing plant in Hockley.

Today a Sunday Mercury investigation can expose how the gang managed to hoodwink the authorities for years with their sophisticated people smuggling scam.

The traffickers would use their contacts in Amristar in India to target desperate locals willing to hand over their life savings to gain entry into the UK.

An average Indian national finds it almost impossible to afford a passport and even if one is obtained, most potential migrants are refused British visas for fear that they will not return to their country.

Illegal immigrants were charged up to 7 lakh rupees (about pounds 8,000) to pay for the fake documentation which was sent to India and enabled them to apply for genuine short-term work permits.

British authorities in Delhi would then grant them an entry visa believing they were genuine performers.

Police alleged that some had even travelled with legitimate entertainment groups whomay have known they were helping them enter the country illegally.

Detectives revealed that the organisers also supplied stolen or forged British and EU passports to immigrants from India, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

A gang associate told the Sunday Mercury: 'The gang was very tight-knit and connected by family ties so infiltration would prove difficult.

'Gang members had been bringing over genuine Asian entertainers for years but realised it would be easy enough to use that as cover to bring in illegal immigrants.

'The fixer strikes a deal with an Asian club or pub owner so that he does not have to pay for the 'entertainers' but instead is paid for allowing them to perform at his venue.

'The only money the performers make is from baksheesh (tips) from the audience which would mainly be made up of well-off businessmen.

'Performers can still pick up pounds 200-pounds 300 a night just on tips from the audience alone.

'The gang must have made hundreds of thousands of pounds from the racket and were responsible for the sudden upsurge in Indian entertainment nights at Asian clubs across the Midlands.'

Clubs where regular shows were arranged are believed to include the Wagon and Horses pub and Pegasus club, both in Wolverhampton.

The source added that another common ruse used to bring over immigrants was for them to apply for work permits as religious priests.

He said: 'Once you have a work permit then it is simple to get an entry visa for the UK.

'Because the authorities do not really know the priesthood structure of a lot of Asian religions they rarely make any checks.

'There are some temples and other places of worship across the Midlands which have helped facilitate the smuggling of illegal immigrants.'

Last month the Sunday Mercury reported how Asian crime gangs were smuggling Indian teenage girls into the UK for prostitution under the guise of 'professional dancers.'

Performing in mujra clubs, as the dancing venues are known, the girls would dance to Bollywood inspired musicals before offering 'extra' services.

A recent Interpol report revealed that people smuggling is the third most profitable activity for organised crime gangs after drug and arms smuggling netting them an estimated pounds 20 billion a year.

A spokesman for the Home Office, which last year issued 1.7 million entry visas to foreign nationals, said: 'Allegations of immigration abuse and deception will be investigated thoroughly by the Immigration Service.'

CAPTION(S):

ADVERT... a poster advertising a show at the Wagon and Horses; RAIDED... Pappu Sweet Centre in Wolverhampton; BOUGHT... Our investigative reporter with the fake passport; DOCTORED... the stolen passport which has been altered to create a fake identity
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Article Details
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 7, 2003
Words:1006
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