Arrests at "illegal passport factories"

LONDON Thu Mar 22, 2007 10:42am GMT

A file photo of a biometric passport is shown atop a special reader connected to a computer that can read the passport holders personal information, October 24, 2005. An estimated 10,000 passports were issued to fraudulent applicants in the year to last September, the Home Office said on Wednesday as it launched a new initiative to reduce identity fraud. REUTERS/Jason Reed

A file photo of a biometric passport is shown atop a special reader connected to a computer that can read the passport holders personal information, October 24, 2005. An estimated 10,000 passports were issued to fraudulent applicants in the year to last September, the Home Office said on Wednesday as it launched a new initiative to reduce identity fraud.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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LONDON (Reuters) - London police arrested 22 people in a crackdown on illegal passport factories and suppliers, Scotland Yard said on Thursday.

More than 100 officers took part in dawn raids at 13 addresses across the capital on Wednesday, backed by officials from the Immigration Service, the Identity and Passport Service, South Yorkshire Police and the Department of Work and Pensions.

The action came the day after the Home Office admitted that about 10,000 British passports had been issued to fraudulent applicants in the year to September last year.

Police said 19 of those arrested were accused of crimes including unlawful facilitation, identity card offences and possession and conspiracy to produce and distribute false documents. The other three were held for immigration offences.

Officers said they had also seized 40,000 pounds in cash, false passports, driving licenses and foreign ID documents.

"The production of false passports enables others to commit a range of serious crime," said Detective Chief Inspector John Kielty. "This operation tackles the criminals who try to hide their true identities from enforcement authorities."

On Wednesday, the Home Office said face-to-face interviews to be introduced in May would help address the problem of identity fraud.

It said the move could have prevented false passports being issued to the likes of Dhiren Barot, jailed for at least 40 years last November for plotting to kill thousands with attacks in Britain and the United States.

"We said we would work closer with the police to tackle serious immigration crime and make our borders safer and we meant it," said Immigration Minister Liam Byrne.

"The operation shows our shared determination to attack the organised crime that accounts for as much as three quarters of illegal immigration to Britain."

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