??565 for a Forged Passport

Views on BG | December 29, 2006, Friday // 00:00

By Oliver Harvey, Chief Feature Writer,
December 29, 2006

The Sun proves today how easily a forged passport can be bought in corruption-plagued Bulgaria пїЅ" which joins the EU on New Year's Day.

Our undercover reporter obtained impressive false papers for just ВЈ565 пїЅ" in the name of Home Secretary John Reid.

Criminals could get into the UK using similar fakes. Even worse, terrorists could pass through Bulgaria's leaky borders en route to Britain.

From January 1, Bulgaria will be the south-eastern border of the whole EU. The Balkan state's neighbours include Serbia and Turkey, which in turn borders Iraq, Iran and Syria.

We asked ID theft expert Tom Craig, 56, to conduct laboratory tests on the papers we obtained.

The former Scotland Yard fraud detective said: "This is a good counterfeit. It would fool most people most of the time, probably including a cop.

"If it wasn't examined properly пїЅ" as they sometimes are not пїЅ" it could be used to gain entry to the UK. Once here, you could use it as proof of ID, to board a plane, get a bank account and credit card and apply for a job."

The ease with which forged documents can be obtained is especially alarming in the light of a Cabinet memo leaked in November.

It warned of soaring crime when Bulgaria and Romania become full EU members and their citizens get visa-free travel to other member states.

Street violence, people-trafficking, prostitution, tax dodges and cash card offences look set to rise. The memo added: "Bulgarian and Romanian travel documents will be increasingly targeted for fraudulent use."

The Sun man did a passport deal in Bulgaria after receiving a tip from an underworld contact.

It led him to a night-time meeting with gang member Bodin outside the Hotel Princess Casino on Maria Luisa Street in the capital Sofia. Crooks there also offer to trade in women, heroin and counterfeit euros.

Menacing Bodin, thick set and in his 40s, boasted that he could get us stolen passports from Italy, Greece and Denmark, or we could have counterfeit Bulgarian papers.

He grunted: "The papers are good to get you into Britain, no problem. Once there, you can make a new identity for yourself.

"You can have it in whatever name you like. We can make up a Bulgarian identity for you. And we can sell you an ID card and driving licence.

"I can get you a British passport in ten days. They are very popular."

At a second meeting in a cafГ© on a seedy Communist-era housing project, Bodin asked for our reporter's height, hair and eye colour and date of birth.

We handed over a deposit for half the fee of 844 euros, capturing the moment on a hidden camera. Bodin then laughed and said: "I think you will make a lot of money from this name John Reid."

Five days later The Sun met Bodin outside the Central Park Hotel off Sofia's bustling Vitosha Boulevard tourist thoroughfare.

Backed by a bulky lieutenant, he led our undercover man down a deserted side street.

It was a tense moment. This year an undercover BBC reporter was robbed at knifepoint while trying to buy false papers. Bodin nodded at the window ledge of a shuttered cafe. There a white envelope was waiting.

Inside it was a brand new passport пїЅ" a whole new identity.
It bore the name John Reid and a false date of birth of April 6, 1968. The passport was issued in September this year and marked as valid for five years.

It had water-marked pages, a scanned photo and hologram images on the cellophane.
Satisfied, we handed over the remainder of the fee. When our man made a scanning gesture across the passport ID page, Bodin nodded enthusiastically.

He insisted: "Yes, yes. You have no problem for passport control. You try. This is good. It's the best.

"We do more business. Next time a British passport is possible."

Back in the UK, we were assured the Bulgarian document could be used at passport control.

A security source said: "If people were being waved through, they would get through on this and smugglers know the best places to get in. The value of these papers is for people from neighbouring countries. Once in Bulgaria, their next stop is the English Channel or a UK airport."

Bulgaria is already becoming a people and drugs trafficking hub.

Its border police can be corrupt and at least 28 have been sacked or transferred this year.

Most were taking bribes from travellers with irregular documents trying to enter Bulgaria пїЅ" ВЈ5million is officially estimated to have been pocketed in the past two years. Bulgaria is also a gateway into Europe for heroin from Afghanistan and cocaine from Colombia.

Commander David Johnston, of London's Metropolitan Police, has been working with Bulgarian cops for two years. He also fears the state will be used as a staging post through which to reach the West from other countries.

And he warned: "The Mafia is operational in Bulgaria. We will see these people over here."

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