Crime gangs import new members on work visas
Criminal gangs are exploiting the immigration system to bring new gang members into Britain through networks of bogus businesses, law enforcers have warned.
By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent
Published: 9:00AM BST 18 Jul 2010
Organised crime networks have set up phoney companies and employment agencies to abuse the “points-based” visa system, introduced under Labour in 2008, which puts responsibility on employers to “sponsor” migrant workers.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) warned that the tactic allowed foreign criminals to be brought into Britain legitimately on work permits.
Scotland Yard has said that around half of London's organised crime gangs are “cultural networks” whose members share a foreign nationality – typically from countries such as Turkey, China and Vietnam whose citizens require visas to come to Britain.
It came as photographs were released demonstrating the lengths to which some illegal immigrants will go to enter Britain.
UK Border Agency officers, operating in Calais, discovered two Vietnamese illegal immigrants sealed in airtight plastic bags by smugglers, in a bid to avoid detection by probes which measure carbon dioxide levels.
Hidden in the back of an articulated lorry full of tinned food, they were unconscious even before beginning the journey across the Channel and would almost certainly have died.
In another recent case, officials at Dover found a 16-year-old Vietnamese girl hidden behind the dashboard of a car, surrounded by electrical wiring and clutching a cuddly bunny for comfort.
Last week Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, disclosed that Britain is home to an estimated 38,000 gangsters in 6,000 gangs, including 500 gangs with assets worth more than 1 million and 68 with assets above 10 million.
Sir Paul's figure for the number of criminals involved, equivalent to the population of Winchester or Lancaster, was significantly higher than previous estimates.
Soca said that fraudulent work permits and student visas, along with bogus marriages and exploitation of visas for family visitors, were “common methods of abuse” following the introduction of the points-based immigration system by the Home Office in November 2008.
“There is a new emphasis on placing responsibility on sponsorship to determine applications,” said a briefing document from Soca.
“This … in turn presents potential opportunities for organised criminals to provide false documentation which enhances or creates sponsorship profiles.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of pressure group Migrationwatch, said: “Soca is absolutely right to point out that this provides an open goal for organised crime. Obviously these gangs can bring in their own members.”
He added: “The points-based system turned the immigration system on its head. Instead of granting a visa being a matter of judgement by immigration officers, the initiative is almost entirely on the business or college making the application on behalf of a foreign national.
“We now have a box-ticking exercise, and the default position is to grant a visa.”
Stephen Taylor of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents immigration officers, said: “We are appalled that the current system allows systematic abuse by people traffickers and organised crime.
“If criminals want to get anybody into the UK, including new members of their gangs, then this is the easiest way to do it.
“Immigration officers at the front line are incredibly frustrated because they are largely powerless to stop people coming into the country, particularly on student visas.”
In a separate development, Paul Evans, a director of Soca, disclosed that among the agency's tactics to stifle gang activity are operations in which suspects are asked to provide details of the taxes they pay.
Analysis has shown 20 per cent of their tax returns are not in order, he said, leading to seizures of tax from unexplained earnings.
The strategy echoes that used by law enforcement agencies in Chicago to combat Al Capone, the notorious Prohibition-era gangster, who was eventually jailed for tax evasion in 1931.
Mr Evans, a former MI6 officer, said: “We want to stifle their ability to operate with impunity.
“The tax returns we demand from them will raise a tax assessment and if there is any unexplained or unearned income we will press them for the debt.
“We had one case where a millionaire who was processing very large sums of money had himself down as a milkman on his tax return. We pursued him and chased the debt.”
The criminals targeted by Soca are normally offenders who ran up lengthy criminal records in their teens or early twenties but then diverted into the “cleaner” side of organised crime as financial masterminds or managers of criminal empires.
The agency declined to disclose how many criminals' affairs it had investigated through this route, but it has uncovered numerous examples of suspects who pay no tax or have no National Insurance number.
Mr Evans said Soca was also sharing information with other public bodies to make criminals' lives as difficult as possible.
He said: “If there are gangmasters among those 38,000 gang members, we share that with the Gangmasters' Licensing Authority.
“We also share information with the Security Industry Authority because of the extent to which organised crime has penetrated the operation of doormen at bars and nightclubs.”
The agency also deals with the Civil Aviation Authority so that convicted drug dealers with pilots' licences have them confiscated.
This tactic was used against Silvano Turchet, the Chester-based drug lord who claimed unemployment benefit while living a luxurious lifestyle. He was jailed for 15 years for drug trafficking and money laundering.
People importing and trading in chemicals which are used as cutting agents in cocaine are also being targeted, even though the chemicals are legal.
According to the latest government estimates, organised crime costs Britain up to 40 billion a year.
The figure includes the drugs trade, which costs the country an estimated 17.5 billion a year in economic and social impacts, while fraud costs 8 billion and people smuggling or trafficking 2.5 billion.
Figures from Scotland Yard last week revealed that 3,435 gun crimes many of them gang-related were carried out in London in the year to June, a rise of 11 per cent on the previous 12 months' total.
National crime figures also published last week, covering a slightly earlier period, showed a 10 per cent decrease in possession of firearms offences across England and Wales.
However they also revealed that the police solved fewer gun crimes, with detections for “possession of firearms with intent” falling from 1,048 to 793 year-on-year.
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