Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Mail and Guardian Online: UK police bust SA immigration scam

Mail and Guardian Online: UK police bust SA immigration scam

UK police bust SA immigration scam


16 June 2004 10:30

Twenty people were arrested on Wednesday in dawn raids targeting an immigration scam that brought more than 1 000 people, mainly South Africans, into Britain using fraudulently obtained student visas, UK police said.

More than 120 officers from the British Metropolitan Police specialist crime directorate swooped on 12 addresses across London and in adjoining Essex, including two suspected bogus colleges in Tooting, south London.

The raids were aimed at a huge immigration racket estimated to have brought more than 1 000 people to London and earned the perpetrators millions.

The arrested suspects -- eight of them women -- were detained on suspicion of offences relating to facilitating illegal entry and leave to remain in Britain, as well as money-laundering, a police spokesperson said.

They were taken to various London police stations for questioning. Among those arrested was a Zimbabwean-born naturalised Briton in his 40s.

The operation was the largest yet to be carried out by the Metropolitan Police under the banner of Operation Maxim, an initiative to tackle organised immigration crime.

They were timed to coincide with an operation on Wednesday by the South African police service in Durban, where officers were thought to have visited at least one address.

The network behind the suspected racket has been under investigation for more than a year, but detectives believe it may have been operating for several years, a police official said.

It allegedly provided mainly South African nationals with fraudulently obtained student visas, either by using counterfeit immigration stamps and false documents or by registering them at bogus colleges.

More than 1 000 people are thought to have been brought to or allowed to stay in Britain as a result of the scam, with each paying several hundred pounds to get a student visa for between six months and three years.

The suspected ringleaders are thought to have made at least a million pounds from the racket. A financial investigation is underway in a bid to recover any criminal assets.

Detective Chief Inspector Steven Kupis, who led Wednesday's operation, said those who had come to Britain under the scam were mainly South African.

"They stand to be returned to their country of origin if they are here illegally," he said. "It is a matter for the Immigration Service and we are progressing with that."

"These people are victims. They have given up money, sometimes unknowingly, to these people purporting to be agents," Kupis added. "They are losing not only their money, but their right to be in this country."

British Home Office minister Des Byrne pledged that the government would continue to crack down on bogus colleges.

"This will protect the vast majority of genuine students who bring three billion pounds to our economy, while reducing the scope for abuse of legal immigration rules in the UK," he said. - Sapa-AFP


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