25 September 2011

Porous borders

In teaching I've had occasion to argue that anxieties about forgery of official identity documents are sometimes misplaced, given that it's possible to persuade an official to give or sell you the 'genuine' identifier.

Last week saw a minor media flurry, with reports that staff at the Australian High Commission in Colombo had sold visas or passports and that employees at the High Commission in Pretoria have stolen Australian passports - presumably the blank variety. We are assured that "the probability the passports were used for international travel is low", given that the passports were cancelled and the details were given to Interpol. The disclosure follows Freedom of Information requests by Fairfax journalists. (The relevant documents do not appear to be identified in the DFAT or Passports Office Freedom of Information Disclosure Log.)

Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Julie Bishop stepped up to the national security soapbox, announcing that misbehaviour will not be tolerated -
The Department of Foreign Affairs must maintain the highest quality management system to ensure any corrupt or any inappropriate behaviour is detected and prevented. There must be a zero tolerance policy for such misconduct
A year ago The Daily Telegraph was similarly excited, announcing "Dramatic arrests over fake passport charges", with a breathless account -
A Post office clerk and a suburban mother allegedly masterminded a fake passport racket to bring illegal immigrants into Australia.

The false passports created at Fairfield Post Office were used by a people-smuggling ring to fly illegal immigrants directly into the country, police claimed.

Postal worker Lara Triglia, 35, and her alleged accomplice, Samira Al Kanani, 44, faced Parramatta Bail Court yesterday.

The women were dramatically arrested on Saturday night after police claimed their role in the racket was uncovered by a damning paper trail.

Lara Triglia, an unassuming 35-year-old clerk from Fairfield Post Office, was arrested in the middle of the night at the home she shares with her father.

Her alleged accomplice Al Kanani, of Mt Druitt, was arrested by Australian Federal Police at Sydney Airport as she tried to board a flight out of the country.

An investigation into the women began in April, after officials discovered people smugglers were using "corrupt Australia Post staff" to approve fraudulent passports and then going overseas to help immigrants skip the queue.

It is not known how the two met but the AFP will allege Ms Triglia, whose job as an interviewing officer was to meet applicants and check that photos and documents matched up, signed off on papers linked to Al Kanani and her family.

The fake applications allegedly included three that had Australian names but photographs of "unknown citizens".

Investigators checked a driver's licence photograph from the RTA and found the name on one passport and its accompanying photograph were of two different people. Phone records revealed the mobile number belonged to yet another person - Al Kanani's son.

But it was immigration records that allegedly gave the game away.

The passport, in the name of an Australian citizen, was never used to fly out of the country - just to fly in.

The whereabouts of the man who flew to Melbourne last month using those papers on the same flight as Al Kanani is unknown.

Another passport application was made in the name of Al Kanani's second son.

Yesterday the court was told investigators then set up a sting, ordering the Australian Passport Office to issue the fake papers.

When Al Kanani's daughter came to collect her "brother's passport" police tracked her to her car, where Al Kanani was sitting.

Police, who watched her movements for two weeks, swooped when Al Kanani allegedly tried to board a plane with the fake passport on Saturday night.

Yesterday Al Kanani appeared over video-link at Parramatta Bail Court in tears. Despite her dramatic arrest only hours earlier, Triglia calmly faced the court.
Tears, stings, dramatic arrests, unassuming suburban mother/criminal mastermind ... very tabloid. Ms Triglia was found guilty in District Court on a charge of making a false statement.