Five jailed for thieving 11 thousand passports and visas

STOLEN: The police treated the theft as a serious organized crime incident

STOLEN: Police treated the theft as major organized crime

FIVE men have been jailed for the parts they played in the theft of more than 11 thousand blank passports and visas.

Alan Burke, 49, of Hathershaw Lane, Oldham, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal at an earlier hearing and was given four and a half years in prison.

Mohammed Shanawaz, 24, of Old Lane, Chadderton, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Jawad Karim, just 18, of Vicarage Street, Hollinwood, was given 21 months detention in a young offender’s institute.

Mohammed Bilal Khan, 53, of Manchester Road, Oldham was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

Mohammed Fiaz, 34, of Oldham Road, Manchester was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

They all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to handle stolen goods during a trial at Manchester Crown Court Crown Square.

On Monday 28 July 2008, 3600 passports and over eight thousand visas were stolen from a courier van, which had been parked outside a newsagent in Chadderton.

The visas and passports were on their way to RAF Northolt where they would have been sent to British Embassies worldwide. Burke was a passenger in the van.

The driver parked up the van shortly after setting off and went into a nearby shop leaving Burke on his own.

It was reported to police 45 minutes later, that an unknown offender had attacked Burke and contents of the van were stolen, however this was fabricated to cover Burke’s involvement in the conspiracy.

Burke was initially arrested following the theft, as it was clear he was in some way involved.

As a result of proactive work by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and Greater Manchester Police’s Serious Crime Division, GMP’s Major Incident Team carried out an investigation with assistance from SOCA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

This operation resulted in a number of arrests on 4 January 2009, when a car was stopped on the M62 near Oldham. Karim and Shanawaz were in the car with nearly 1500 visas and 1600 passports.

Further investigation led to the arrests on 9 January 2009 of Bilal Khan and Fiaz.

A number of searches were carried out and another 600 passports were found.

Investigations into the outstanding passports and visas are ongoing.

Detective Chief Inspector Pete Marsh of GMP’s Major Incident Team said: “These men who are alleged to be part of an organised crime group made mistakes executing the robbery, which clearly implicated Burke.

“This was an extremely serious crime and a great deal of work has gone into finding the people responsible. The implications of these documents being available for use by criminals both in the UK and abroad meant this gang had to be caught quickly and a team with investigators from many agencies working together has achieved this.

“Everyone involved in this operation has worked incredibly hard and today signals a success for the team, although it is not the end as there are still a number of documents outstanding and the investigation is still ongoing.

“It is fitting that these men are now being made to face justice for these crimes and I hope this will be a deterrent for anyone else contemplating crimes involving passport documentation in the future.”

Steve Baldwin, Head of Investigations in the North West for SOCA, said:

“If you try to exploit the UK passport and visa system, expect no leniency from the law. GMP and SOCA put partnership into action for this investigation, and as a result these criminals are behind bars and a large quantity of passports and visas have been recovered.

“Things don’t end here. SOCA and UKBA have recovered a further 78 passports and 107 visas identified overseas. Together with UKBA, the Foreign Office and other partners we are making life hard for organised criminals who want to target the UK’s borders.”

In a separate SOCA operation, another 22 passports have been recovered and three men have been charged with conspiracy to handle stolen goods.

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