HC Deb 13 November 2003 vol 413 cc426-7W
Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action the Immigration Crime Team is taking to target criminals who fraudulently obtain passports; and how many fraudulent applications for passports have been detected after the passport has been issued in the last five years. [131764]

Beverley Hughes

The remit of the Immigration Crime Team (ICT) is to tackle serious and organised immigration crime including, where relevant, identity fraud and theft. Since its inception in January 2002 it has conducted three major operations into identity fraud. Others are under development. The first concerned the identity theft of British passports and led to the arrest of 29 persons in a series of co-ordinated raids. The second involved the arrest of two men for the manufacture and supply of forged British passports and the dismantling of their criminal enterprise. Both pleaded guilty, one received a five year sentence and the other 18 months. The operation resulted in one of the largest ever seizures of high quality forged passports believed to have a street value of over £2 million. The third operation is currently sub judice.

Such operations are complex, involving lengthy investigation and demanding a high level of inter-agency co-operation. The ICT operates as part of Reflex, the Government's inter-agency task force created to combat organised immigration crime. Targeting identity fraud is a key priority for Reflex and while the ICT has been at the forefront of major operations other successes have been recorded by other Reflex partners. For example using Reflex funding the Metropolitan police have established a joint intelligence unit under Operation Maxim involving the Immigration Service and UK Passport Service (UKPS) with a remit to investigate identity fraud alongside related criminality.

UKPS records the number of fraudulent passport applications which have been detected after passports have been issued. Figures for passports detected in each of the last five years are shown as follows:

1999 153
2000 179
2001 161
2002 1,360
2003 to date 489

The significant increase in cases detected in the last two years is a result of the UKPS' access to infant death data and greater proactivity in tackling fraud. The UKPS is taking forward a range of initiatives to improve fraud prevention and detection. These include better arrangements for the recording and dissemination of lost, stolen and recovered passport information; increasing the professionalism of its fraud and intelligence units; changing the law to make passport fraud offences arrestable; investigating the use of biometrics to improve passport security; and using from February 2004 secure delivery for the despatch of all passports; and finally continuing to work actively with law enforcement agencies to apprehend, disrupt and dismantle the activities of those involved in passport fraud.