Al-Qaida gets fake papers as Home Office issues 10,000 passports to fraudsters
James Sturcke and agencies
Tuesday March 20, 2007
An estimated 10,000 British passports were issued after fraudulent applications in the space of a year – and al-Qaida terrorists have successfully faked applications, the Home Office admitted today.
The Home Office minister, Joan Ryan, said the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) had received 16,500 fraudulent applications between October 2005 and September 2006.
In a written ministerial statement, she said “almost half” the applications were stopped by existing safeguards, but the remainder had gone undetected.
“Our current estimate is, therefore, that the level of undetected fraud is about 0.5%, equivalent to 10,000 applications against the planned 6.6m passports issued per year,” Ms Ryan said.
Dhiren Barot, the most senior al-Qaida terrorist ever captured in Britain, received two passports, the IPS said. Barot – a Briton who was jailed for life last November and will not be considered for parole for at least 40 years – was one of two convicted terrorists to be issued with a passport.
Moroccan national Salaheddine Benyaich – currently serving 18 years in Morocco for terrorist offences – also had two British passports in the name of a British citizen born in Brighton.
Tony Blair's official spokesman said: “It isn't just a matter of saying there's 10,000 [fraudulently obtained passports] out there and doing nothing about them. Each and every one of these is being followed up to ensure that those responsible are caught.” The shadow home secretary, David Davis, described it as a “shocking admission” that betrayed “chaos at the heart of the passport system”.
“This is the latest in a long line of shambles afflicting the passport service. Given this dire record, they have no chance of running the ID card project, which will cost up to 20bn and involve billions of pieces of data, effectively,” he said.
The details emerged as the IPS announced that adult first-time passport applicants would have to attend face-to-face interviews from May.
The IPS executive director, Bernard Herdan, said applicants would be expected to know answers from a pool of around 200 questions about their ancestry, financial history and previous addresses.
“We will not ask questions to which we don't know the answers,” he said. “Before the interview takes place, we will have cross-checked that individual against various databases in order to uncover information about them.”
The questions are intended to ensure that applicants are the people they claim to be and uncover any cases of identity fraud, he added.
Applicants will be asked who lives with them, whether they have a mortgage, where and when their parents were born and which bank accounts they hold, and will also face questions about the counter-signatory to their passport application.
Speaking of Barot, Mr Herdan said: “He had two passports in fraudulent identities which would have been stopped if he had been interviewed.”
The IPS chief executive, James Hall, said he hoped the process would reduce the level of fraud. “We would obviously like to see it come down year-on-year, and that is what we have committed ourselves to,” he said.
Today's fraud figures, based on a sample of several thousand applications, are believed to be the most accurate estimate so far of the extent of passport fraud.
“Although precise figures are difficult to obtain, it appears that the level of attempted fraud is increasing and getting more sophisticated,” Ms Ryan said.
“Analysis of the frauds shows that the main fraud threat is from first-time adult applications, followed by first-time child applications.”
Barot, 34, of Willesden, north London, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder at Woolwich crown court last year. He planned to launch attacks on both sides of the Atlantic, targeting Washington, New York and Newark and plotting carnage “on a colossal scale” in Britain. He had seven passports in his true identity and two further passports in fraudulent identities.
Today's figures are the latest in a line of bureaucratic embarrassments to hit the Home Office and its various agencies.
When John Reid became the home secretary in May 2006, the department had already faced a number of scandals, including the revelation that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners had been freed without first being considered for deportation.
After taking over, Mr Reid attacked his predecessor, Charles Clarke, declaring the department was “not fit for purpose” and saying it was led by officials “incapable of producing facts or figures that remain accurate for even a short period”.
In January this year, Mr Reid admitted to the Commons that the details of 280 Britons convicted abroad of serious offences – including murder, rape and robbery – dating back to 1999 have yet to be logged on to the criminal records database. The number represents more than half the total of Britons convicted overseas.
In the same month, it emerged that a third terror suspect under a control order had escaped, with all the escapes happening in a period of less than six months.
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