12 September 2013

Carded and concocted

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has announced that a "joint Identity Security Strike Team operation" (comprising members of the Australian Federal Police, NSW Police, Department of Immigration & Citizenship (DIAC) and NSW Roads and Maritime Services) has led to seizure of "a substantial amount of cash" and two arrests "for producing fake identity material and committing credit card fraud".

The AFP media release states that following the execution of search warrants a 52-year-old Riverwood man is alleged to have "manufactured false documents, including driver licences, Medicare cards and credit cards", with a 47-year-old Burwood man allegedly "sourcing the identification information and supplying the completed false identification documents to others".

The alleged offenders used "high-end printing and manufacturing equipment to produce cards that were strong versions of officially-issued items".

The Team's action "follows on from intelligence gathered during Operation Pulse in November 2011 where the ISST seized 12,000 fake credit cards and manufacturing equipment and prevented a potential $30 million in fraudulent credit card transactions".

And the charges? The Beverley Hills man was charged with
  • one count of Conspiracy to Cheat and Defraud
  • ten counts of Deal with identity information, contrary to Section 192J of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) 
  • seven counts of Make/possess equipment to make false documents, contrary to Section 256(1) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) 
  • one count of Deal with property suspected of being proceeds of crime, contrary to Section 193C Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). 
The Burwood man was charged with
  • one count of Conspiracy to Cheat & Defraud
  • nine counts of Deal with identity information, contrary to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)
  • two counts of Make/possess equipment to make false documents, contrary to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)
  • one count of Possess false document to obtain financial advantage, contrary to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
I've meanwhile been reading 'Stop The Planes!? Document Fraud and Migrant Smuggling By Air In Australia' by Andreas Schloenhardt, Freya Douglas and Joseph Lelliot [PDF]. In relation to document fraud the authors comment
Document fraud is a central feature of migrant smuggling by air, as the vast majority of countries and airlines require passports, visas, or other identity papers to be presented at check-in and again at emigration and immigration control points. Even in those jurisdictions that permit visa-free entry for certain nationalities or allow entry without a passport, other identify cards or official documents need to be produced to clear relevant border controls. Document fraud thus becomes a necessity if and when a would-be migrant does not possess authentic papers or if such papers would not permit the person to check-in, depart, or to enter another country.
Forged documents may be provided by migrant smugglers – or may be obtained by smuggled migrants – in one of two ways. The first avenue is to obtain otherwise genuine documents from official sources by supplying false information and/or by way of corruption. In some instances, immigration officers and consular staff may be bribed to provide genuine passports and visas, or to provide the documentation necessary for the migrant to attain genuine documents, such as birth certificates. Equally, police and airline staff may accept payments for turning a blind eye to fraudulent documents. In a similar fashion, misrepresentations may be made or false documents presented to relevant officers and agents in order to gain genuine documents.
The second form of document fraud involves the fraudulent production of documents or forgery of genuine documents, usually in return for the payment of substantial fees. For example, genuine passports may be obtained from persons of similar appearance, sold to the smugglers or directly to the smuggled migrants, and then reported lost or stolen by the seller. Alternatively, passports may be forged by way of photo-substitution or by altering other information or biometric data contained in a passport that was once genuine. Forged passports are usually supplied and sold by specialists. The quality of these forged documents varies, with some being of a very high quality, and others being of a lower quality and easily detectable. If a smuggled migrant merely wants to reach the country and then claim asylum, the forgery does not need to be particularly convincing as there is no attempt to deceive immigration officials at the point of entry. On the other hand, if the person seeks to enter destination country undetected then the document must be of a high quality. Smuggled migrants may also change their documents en-route, for example by travelling to one airport hub on genuine documents, then being given further fraudulent documents in order to travel further on to the destination country.
Visas may be forged or fraudulently obtained. They can be arranged in advance, sometimes with the help of corrupt or shambolic educational or business institutions. Visa applications may be supported by additional fraudulent documents intended to prove the false identity of the smuggled migrant or to misrepresent the true purpose of their intended travel.
There are, at present, no statistics about the number of persons smuggled into Australia by air each year. This is due, in part, to the clandestine nature of this crime and the use of sophisticated document fraud that may not be apprehended at immigration control points at Australia’s airports and seaports. But even if such documents are detected, it is not always clear whether the use of forged documents is indeed facilitated by migrant smugglers, or whether these documents have been supplied or acquired for other reasons. In the 2010-11 financial year, for example, 84 people were refused entry at Australian airports for presenting false or altered documents, though it is not clear how many of these were linked to migrant smuggling by air.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) provides annual statistics on the number of so-called ‘unauthorised air arrivals’ in Australia and on detection of forged and fraudulent documents at embarkation points which – while not conclusive – may shed some light into the levels of migrant smuggling by air to Australia. ... On average, approximately 1200–1500 unauthorised arrivals are apprehended at Australian airports each year. This includes a variety of circumstances, including persons arriving with no travel documents, such as visas and passports, as well as persons arriving with documents that may have expired or are otherwise no longer valid (for example, persons arriving with a tourist visa intending to gain employment in Australia for which a business visa would be needed). Also included in the number of unauthorised air arrivals are those persons who arrive with forged or fraudulent travel or identity papers.
Figures relating to persons using forged or fraudulent documents are collected separately and appear to primarily comprise persons detected by Australian airline liaison officers (ALOs) working at overseas embarkation points. It is thus difficult to see these figures in context. What can be said is that, on average, approximately 150-200 persons are detected per year with only minor variations between individual reporting periods. What is not known is the number of those persons using very sophisticated forgeries that have not been apprehended by immigration and customs officials. DIAC hypothesises that the relative decrease in detections in more recent years can be attributed to the deterrent effect of the ALO presence at points of embarkation, though it is not possible to validate this statement. As mentioned earlier, these figures must not be mistaken for the levels of migrant smuggling by air in Australia.
Apart from these (fragmentary) DIAC statistics, there is no other collection of data that could shed further light into the levels and patterns of migrant smuggling by air into Australia. In particular, there are no records by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) or the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) about the number of investigations and prosecutions pertaining to migrant smuggling by air.
Case Reports
The most substantive information about the characteristics and scale of migrant smuggling by air and related document fraud in Australia stems from reported and unreported case law, together with several media reports that have been published in recent years.
The most prominent of these cases was brought to light in a series of media features by the ABC in March 2012. In this case, the AFP, in cooperation with the Royal Thai Police, made several arrests relating to migrant smuggling network which allegedly supplied forged documents to persons intending to migrate to Australia. Thai authorities arrested two people in possession of twenty altered passports, along with equipment for creating false documents. It was alleged the men were producing and supplying Iranian and United Arab Emirates passports in order to smuggle people to Australia by plane or boat. Four people were arrested in Australia as part of the same operation, thought it was later revealed that they did not possess false documents, nor the ability to produce them. It was alleged that these four people were the Australia-based organisers and they were subsequently charged for offences including aggravated people smuggling under s 233C of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth).
Following these arrests, further reports surfaced which suggest notable occurrences of document fraud in the process of migrant smuggling to Australia by plane. The ABC specifically singled out the alleged smuggling of Chinese migrants into Australia, ‘supported by a network of corrupt officials from China to migration agents in Australia’. The report suggested that migrant smugglers use fraudulently obtained visas and a variety of other forged documents to smuggle their clients into Australia by air and then help them apply for protection visas (which are designed for refugees fleeing from persecution).
While it is not possible to state how many persons have been charged in Australia with offences relating to migrant smuggling by air, there are occasional reports about individuals who have been investigated and charged under relevant provisions. One such case is that of Ms Kanani who was charged in 2009 under s 233(1)(a) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) in relation to an alleged fake passport ring. Together with co-worker Ms Lara Triglia, Ms Kanani was accused of approving fraudulent passports applications lodged at Australia Post outlets, and then going overseas to sell them. Ms Kanani pleaded guilty to all charges. Also in 2009, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), a national agency to collect intelligence on and combat organised and serious crime, reported about a man by the name of Mr Arun Kumar who was found guilty of producing false documents, though it is not clear whether his activities were linked to the smuggling of migrants in any way.
Judicial decisions
An analysis of judicial decisions relating to immigration matters provides further insight into the patterns of migrant smuggling by air and document fraud in Australia. Specifically, there are several cases that went before the Federal Magistrates Court on appeal from the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) as well as several decisions from the RRT itself that point to further evidence about this phenomenon. The following cases were chosen insofar as they are representative of the wider problem.
Several of these cases support claims made in recent media reports about smuggling of Chinese migrants. For example, the case of SZNTK v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2010] FMCA 970 involved a Chinese national who was given a false identity and a false passport issued in another person’s name and put on a plane to Sydney, where, approximately one month after arrival, he applied for a protection visa. In SZOPW v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2011] FMCA 48 a Chinese woman used a Snakehead, a term used for Chinese migrant smuggling syndicates, to procure a fake passport to enter Australia. Upon arrival she was given a British Passport with which to claim asylum.
Several similar cases involving Chinese nationals make reference to the use of fraudulently obtained visas and supporting identification documents. The case of SZONB v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2011] FMCA 13, for instance, involves the purchase of a fraudulent visa along with other documents with which the smuggled migrant was to obtain a business visa once he was in Australia. He later attempted to do so, but after several failed attempts applied for a protection visa instead.
Numerous cases that came before the RRT point to similar patterns of Chinese nationals who, facilitated by migrant smugglers, acquire false documents for the purpose of entering Australia by air. For example, the RRT Case 1102969 concerned a Chinese woman who had paid a large amount of money for a false passport with which to enter Australia. This case noted the availability of fraudulent documents in China, citing a 2009 Canadian study which stated ‘just about any document can be forged in China and many are’. The RRT Case 1102969 further stated the cost of a false Chinese passport varied between US$10,000 and 80,000, with the cost increasing for assisted passage with multiple passports. RRT Case 1001501 also details the use of fake passports used to enter Australia. RRT Case 1001501 concerned a Chinese-Tibetan woman who acquired a variety of false Nepalese documents in order to travel to Australia. She stated her father paid a police officer about AU$2,500 for a Nepalese passport and citizenship card.
The phenomenon of migrant smuggling by air involving Chinese nationals using false travel and identity documents is long-standing, and has been explored in more detail in relation to smuggling to the United States and Japan. Some of this information may no longer be current and may often differ from the Australian experience. In a 2011 case, Federal Magistrate Driver, however, made the following observations:
Various push factors drive asylum seekers from Fujian province in China in substantial numbers while pull factors draw them to Australia […]. The [Refugee Review] Tribunal would have been aware (as this court is aware) of many similar cases in which applicants are shepherded from Fujian province to Australia, are met at the airport in Sydney and taken to Chinatown where the process of them seeking protection is put in train using the services of either unregistered migration agents operating illegally or registered migration agents with very few scruples. It is disturbing that this large scale and sophisticated people smuggling operation does not receive the same attention that is directed to people smuggling from south and central Asia. The only difference between these operations is that people smuggled from China arrive by air apparently legally (although frequently using false documents). It is relatively easy for Australia to detect people smuggling operations at sea at the border because the people being brought to this country wish to be detected and processed. It is harder to deal with the people smuggling operation from China because the people being smuggled are not detected at the border. Despite a heavy policy emphasis in this country on “border protection” the fruits of that policy seem to be largely limited to protection of sea borders against people to actively seek detection and thereby protection. The capacity of the Australian authorities to protect air borders against sophisticated people smuggling operations, where the object is to evade detection at the border, appears poor.
In addition to the smuggling by air of migrants from mainland China, there are also a considerable number of reports involving smuggled migrants from other countries. RRT Case 1106553, for instance, outlines how a man from Uzbekistan paid his smuggler, referred to as Mr F, substantial amounts money to be escorted on the trip, and for the manufacture of false documents. Additionally, RRT Case 1113831 involves a Nepalese woman who had used a false Nepalese passport to enter Australia.
The case of SZPJ v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2012] FCA 18 provides a detailed account of an Afghan man who travelled to Pakistan where his uncle arranged for a migrant smuggler to take him to Australia. He was initially given an Iranian passport to travel to Dubai, and a Japanese passport with which to travel to Australia, where he sought asylum. His application for a protection visa was unsuccessful and an appeal against this decision failed because the Court held that his claims about persecution were fabricated. The use of false documents for smuggled migrants departing from Pakistan has also been reported in relation to Afghan, Iraqi and other Middle Eastern nationals who are equipped with false documents for the flights between Pakistan and Malaysia or Indonesia and then continue the journey to Australia by boat.
Similar cases involve nationals from South Asia, including Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka, who are furnished with false documents by migrant smugglers to obtain Australian visas overseas. Many of these cases also point to the prevalence and availability of false documents in the applicants’ countries of origin, which is, perhaps, indicative of the scale of migrant smuggling involving document fraud. It may come as a surprise to some readers that these cases before the RRT and federal courts do not automatically lead to criminal investigations and prosecutions of the migrant smugglers furnishing their clients with false documents or otherwise facilitating their journey between sending and destination country. It is not known whether Australian law enforcement authorities follow up on the evidence presented in these cases, but it should be noted that most of the alleged smugglers and those involved in the production and supply of false documents are located abroad, outside the reach of Australian authorities. Moreover, many of the statements made in these immigration-related cases may be insufficient for law enforcement agencies to act upon, or may not be credible.
Government Reports
Annual reports by government agencies such as DIAC and the AFP feature further references to the general problem, but provide little insight into specific manifestations. DIAC’s 2010-11 Annual Report stresses the significance of border management, including ‘combating people smuggling’ as a principal objective, and emphasises as important a ‘whole of government, layered approach to border management’ as well as work done in conjunction with international organisations such as UNODC, the Bali Process, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The report does not, however, reveal any further information about either detections of migrant smuggling by air or the attendant use of document fraud, or how the Department confronts the challenges associated with this phenomenon. The Annual Reports of previous years are similarly deficient.
Similar observations can be made about reports by the AFP, which contain little information on the topics of migrant smuggling by air and document fraud. The Annual Report for 2010–11, for instance, details the AFP’s overall response to migrant smuggling and highlights the fact that substantial amounts of government funding were given to the AFP to comprehensively combat migrant smuggling. Combatting migrant smuggling by air and document fraud, however, does not appear to feature prominently – and perhaps not at all – in this strategy, which instead focuses almost exclusively on the investigation and prosecution of crew members of illegal entry vessels bringing smuggled migrants, most of them asylum seekers, to Australia.
In light of the available evidence contained in case reports and media features it is surprising – and perhaps alarming – that government agencies in Australia appear to have little knowledge of the actual patterns and scale of migrant smuggling by air and document fraud. There is no suggestion here that this type of crime is particularly widespread in Australia, but it appears that the Government’s (and, for that matter, also the Opposition’s) preoccupation with migrant smuggling by sea means that other, more clandestine and sophisticated forms of migrant smuggling have not been equally explored and may indeed have been overlooked in policy making and, perhaps, in law enforcement.