12 passport officials suspended in ‘UK visa scam’
LAHORE: The National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) suspended on Monday 12 officials of a passport office after shocking media reports of a scam involving fake documents for travel to London, ostensibly in connection with the coming Olympics.
The interior ministry has constituted a team comprising officials of Nadra and the Federal Investigation Agency to investigate the matter.
The team is expected to arrive here on Tuesday.
Neither Tariq Malik, newly-promoted head of Nadra, nor its spokesperson confirmed the number of officials suspended. However, an official told Dawn that almost all staff, including head of the Harbanspura passport office, had been stopped from working till the investigation team recorded their statements and cleared them.
The British tabloid, The Sun, in its Monday edition provided details as to how easy it was for a crime ring operating in Lahore to manipulate the system for getting British visa.
An official of the passport office told Dawn that it issued passports on the basis of a genuine computerised national identity card (CNIC).
“Since only one document – CNIC – is required to issue a passport there is no question of a fake passport. If the Nadra record does not show the complete credentials of a CNIC holder, it is next to impossible that a passport is issued against that CNIC,” he said.
A Nadra official said The Sun team probably got a CNIC renewed against the man whose family record had already been with the authority.
“There would have been a substance in the claim had the holder of the passport (Muhammad Ali) got the UK visa for the Olympics,” he said, adding that getting a CNIC issued in the name of someone who was already in the data bank of Nadra and subsequently issuance of the passport against it was not a big deal.
The story revolves around an undercover investigator employed by The Sun who, in collaboration with some local people, contacted a network of Pakistani agents with alleged links not only to passport and identity card offices but also to officials in the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB).
The Sun proudly announced smashing a scam that gave “potential terrorists a chance to sneak into Britain with Pakistan’s Olympic team… as bogus support staff…”
It quoted an “intelligence operative” as saying: “The idea of unknown agents being flown in to the UK to be put up in the Olympic Village beggars belief. Terrorists would have the biggest platform to perform their atrocities. A member of Al Qaeda could fly to the UK on a genuine passport in another name… For all of our sakes this staggering loophole needs closing fast.”
“First they provided our undercover investigator with a genuine Pakistani passport in a false name,” The Sun said. The information was backed by footage reminiscent of the 2010 sting operation by another UK paper against some Pakistani cricketers. The apparent flaw in the otherwise carefully created footage was when it identified Abid Chaudhry, the “mastermind” behind the scam, as “a leading Lahore politician”. In fact, Chaudhry is a small-time worker of a political party based in Dharampura.
Mr Chaudhry “spelled out how for around £7,000 he could get our man a two-month visa — and smuggle him into London 2012 as part of Pakistan’s Olympic squad…Mr Chaudhry … explained how easy it was to get into the Olympic Village by masquerading as a member of the athletes’ support team”.
The paper said an investigation was under way after it alerted MI6, the Home Office in London, the UK Border Agency and the British High Commission in Islamabad.
Talking to Dawn, PSB Director General Amir Hamza Gilani said the federation of any sports body issued a recommendation letter while NOC was issued to a player or staff after a thorough scrutiny by the interior ministry and intelligence agencies. “It is rubbish to claim that a recommendation letter or NOC can be obtained for a few bucks,” he said.
Mr Chaudhry, who works for a travel agency, Dream Land, told a private news channel that a man with some reference had met him and asked him how to get a UK visa. He refused to get involved in getting a fake CNIC issued.
Dream Land is owned by Malik Bashir, who has the reputation of sending people abroad on doctored documents. Bashir said he had not attended the office for the past eight years because he was unwell.
The UK paper smartly selected a notorious travel agent to give credence to its claim.
Our Sports Reporter adds: A spokesman for the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) told Dawn it was not possible for any unwanted person to travel to London on fake documents as an official member of Pakistan contingent because all the 39 members of the Pakistan Olympic squad were bona fide persons, duly accredited by the London Olympics Organising Committee.
“The POA has written a letter to POA President Arif Hasan, who is already in London,” he said.
An accreditation card is always issued by the host country after verifying all documents of the applicant, which are always sent by the national Olympic committee of the country concerned.
Moreover, the British High Commission staff in Pakistan had personally done the bio-matrix of all members of the Pakistan squad, including journalists going to cover the games, some six months ago at the offices of the Pakistan Hockey Federation in Lahore.
Last month, the London organising committee had dispatched accreditation cards of all these persons after passing through a process in the UK. The same accreditation is acceptable for issuance of visa at the Heathrow Airport. Furthermore, no-one can enter the Olympic Village or playing arenas as official, without accreditation.
Of the 39 members of the Pakistan squad, 24 had already reached London on July 12 as national hockey team squad comprising 18 players and six officials.
AFP adds: Pakistan’s Olympic chef de mission Aqil Shah dismissed the Sun’s claims.
“These are baseless reports,” Mr Shah told AFP. “This is an attempt to malign Pakistan. Even if someone gets a passport he cannot enter the Olympic Village without an Olympic accreditation card.”
Pakistan’s 39-strong delegation – minus Mr Shah – is already in London and consists of 23 athletes and 16 officials.
Mr Shah justified the number of officials.
“Hockey has at least six officials which are under the rules and then we have physicians and other coaches who are genuine members of Pakistan’s contingent,” he said.
POA chief Arif Hasan was discussing the matter with the Pakistan High Commission in London, said Mr Shah.