Counterfeit document ring busted in Europe

French law enforcement agencies have taken nine people into custody on suspicion of document fraud and facilitating illegal immigration.

The operation – backed by Europol and conducted by law enforcement in France, Germany, Greece and Switzerland – is thought to have been involved in illegal immigration in multiple EU countries. Two suspected ringleaders – both Algerian nationals – are among those arrested.

“The criminal network procured and distributed forged and falsified administrative documents to irregular migrants from North Africa based in France, Germany, Switzerland and most likely other EU countries,” says Europol.

“The criminal network produced the false documents in Athens and shipped them via courier companies,” it goes on, adding that the beneficiaries, counterfeiters and suppliers communicated via social media networks.

The suspected gang leader was known to the German and Swiss law enforcement authorities and resided in Mulhouse, France. He is suspected of acting as a go-between between the counterfeiters in Greece and ran a France-wide network of individuals looking for potential customers.

During the operation, 37 counterfeit falsified and genuine documents were seized – including passports, IDs, driving licenses, residency cards and birth and marriage certificates – along with €2,400 in cash and evidence of bank transfers between France, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

Document fraud is one of the engines of organised crime in the EU, according to  Europol.

“Although document fraud has no direct impact on most citizens in the EU, it facilitates other serious and organised crimes,” it says. “This operation is the first successful step of an EU-wide investigation that began in December 2018.”

A report published by the Pew Research Centre last year estimated that at least 3.9m unauthorised immigrants – and possibly as many as 4.8m – were residing in Europe in 2017.

Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

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