LONDON: A major visa scam has been unearthed by a UK tabloid involving a ring of corrupt Pakistani officials and politicians – a scam that would have given “potential terrorists” the chance to enter Britain with Pakistan’s Olympic team.
The investigation was centred on the Lahore-based Dream Land travel agency prosecuted nine years ago for human trafficking. “We infiltrated a crime ring offering false passports, visas and access to London 2012 as bogus support staff. We uncovered a ring of corrupt Pakistani officials and travel staff conspiring with a prominent politician to bypass stringent security,” The Sun said on Monday.
The mass circulating paper carried the story on its front page and devoted two pages inside on how the paper was able to bribe Pakistani officials and a travel agent into buying a new passport without much hassle.
The paper’s undercover investigator was first provided with a genuine Pakistani passport under a false name. Then leading Lahore politician Abid Chaudhary spelled out how for around 7,000 pounds he could get the man a two-month visa and smuggle him into London 2012 as part of Pakistan’s Olympic squad.
The Sun secretly filmed Chaudhary as he explained how easy it was to get into the Olympic Village by masquerading as a member of the athletes support team. “We were told we could even take part in Friday’s opening ceremony. At no point did any of the corrupt officials question us about the reason for wanting to sneak into Britain.”
“An investigation was under way yesterday after we alerted MI6, the Home Office, the UK Border Agency and the British High Commission in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad,” the paper said.
The investigator was also informed by Abid Chaudhary that 7,000 pounds could get him a two-month visa and smuggle him into London 2012 as part of Pakistan’s Olympic Squad. Chaudhary further said that just over 1,000 pounds were required for an official letter from the Pakistan Sports Board, saying he (investigator) was part of the country’s Olympic squad.
The Home Office reportedly told The Sun: “We thank The Sun for highlighting this attempted abuse and will be handing the evidence straight over to the Pakistani authorities. Olympic delegation lists are tightly controlled and are provided by each participating country so we know which Games Family Members are coming well in advance. It is a system with stringent checks in it, including requiring an individual’s fingerprints. They can’t be forged. We also have highly-trained staff based in Pakistan working with local authorities rooting out abuse and forged documentation. We can stop people of concern boarding planes to the UK and regularly deny access at the UK border.”
Asked about the report at a daily media briefing, the British Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “My understanding is that we are confident that we have the checks in place and the arrangements in place to deal with these issues. The delegation lists for the Olympic Games are very tightly controlled and when it comes to Pakistan we have had highly-trained staff based in Pakistan dealing with the authorities there to deal with this.”
PPI adds: Meanwhile, Senior Adviser to the PM on Interior Rehman Malik took a serious notice of the alleged fake passport scam to send Pakistanis to London Olympics and directed the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT), headed by Director General FIA, to probe the case and register an FIR against those responsible.
Chief de Mission of the Pakistan contingent for London Olympics, Syed Aqil Shah, termed the report in the British newspaper a conspiracy against Pakistan. He said it was impossible for an irrelevant person to travel along with the Pakistani contingent.
The Chairman of the National Database and Regulatory Authority (Nadra), Tariq Malik, suspended eight employees of Nadra Lahore, including GM Lahore, for their alleged involvement in the fake passport scam. He said that a probe would be completed within 48 hours and stern action would be taken against those responsible.