05 December 2016

Genuine Fakes

The Canberra Times reports closure of a fake US embassy in Ghana, that supposedly issued "illegally obtained authentic visas" for over a decade.
"It was not operated by the United States government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organised crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practising immigration and criminal law," the US State Department said in a statement released late on Friday.
Turkish citizens, who spoke English and Dutch, posed as consular officers and staffed the operation.
US Department of State Investigations also uncovered a fake Dutch embassy, the US State Department said. Officials in the Netherlands were not able to be reached for comment on Sunday.
The crime ring issued legitimate, but fraudulently obtained, US visas and false identification documents, including birth certificates at a cost of $US6000 each, the statement said.
"The investigation identified the main architects of the criminal operation, and two satellite locations (a dress shop and an apartment building) used for operations," the statement said.
During raids that led to a number of arrests, authorities also seized authentic and counterfeit Indian, South African and European Union visas and 150 passports from 10 countries along with a laptop and smart phones.
The statement did not say how the gang obtained the authentic visas.
And the State Department did not say how many people were believed to have entered the US and other countries illegally using visas issued by the crime ring, which used bribery to operate unhindered.
I recall the loss in 2003 of the Papua New Guinea passports database, a stock of blank passports and even the machine used to print passports, reported at that time by the ABC
Papua New Guinea's Foreign Minister says blank passports were clearly the target of a break-in at his department's headquarters.
The country's national passport database and backups were stolen in the weekend theft. Foreign Affairs Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu says the break-in and theft at the department's migration section is an extremely serious matter.
An investigation is underway, however it is believed there are no signs of forced entry.
Computer systems containing the country's national passport database, back-up materials and blank passports were stolen in the raid.
Sir Rabbie says the theft does not appear to be random, and instead was clearly targeted at passports and sensitive data.
He says if the passports fall into the wrong hands, the consequences could be serious.
A subsequent ABC report stated
SHANE MCLEOD: Around PNG it's known as "the passport scam". Allegations of widespread corruption surrounding the issuing of passports and visas allowing illegal immigrants both into PNG, and to use PNG travel documents to reach other countries, triggered a government investigation into the immigration system.
The report was delivered to the outgoing Morauta Government more than a year ago, and after much delay and not a little public pressure, finally the details of the investigation have come to light.
The Foreign Affairs Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu.
RABBIE NAMALIU: The report confirmed that abuses of the Migration Act for personal gains was rampant and was totally uncontrolled by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Officers at all levels in the Department, from senior management to the lower rank and file of migration officers had been parties to the scandal.
It became clear that Papua New Guinea was being used by some foreign nationals and corporations involved in people smuggling schemes to gain access to the country both as destination for employment, as well as a transit point to gain entry to other destinations, particularly Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada.
SHANE MCLEOD: But the events surrounding the passport scam have themselves been overtaken by recent developments.
Two weekends ago, a break-in at the Department's headquarters saw the nation's entire passport issuance and tracking computer system stolen. Computers, printers, blank passports and even back-up discs disappeared in a theft where it appears the criminals had the keys to the office.
In the interim, Australia has stepped in to help rescue the PNG passport system. But it appears from Sir Rabbie's parliamentary statement that help has been long overdue. For example, he says scores of passports have been issued to people who aren't PNG citizens, including one foreigner who is said to have three PNG passports.
RABBIE NAMALIU: Typically, the process involved middlemen being stationed in the country to facilitate the entry of aliens through Papua New Guinea to other destinations. The middlemen collaborated with the PNG migration officers prior to the entry of the foreigner, who would normally arrive with one-way tickets and cleared by the officers concerned at the Jacksons International Airport, and after paying appropriate "service fees", the foreigners were given pre-processed PNG passports for use in their onward journey.
SHANE MCLEOD: Sir Rabbie says action has been taken against a number of Immigration Department officials and foreigners allegedly involved in the scam, but while 12 officers were charged with offences under the Public Service Act, only eight eventually faced action, and of them, only six were retrenched.
Another two faced criminal charges, and while action is pending in one case, the other accused was acquitted at trial, which has a few people puzzling over the Prime Minister's recent attacks on the media, which reported a survey by the international corruption watchdog, Transparency International, ranking PNG among the worst countries internationally in terms of perceptions of corruption.
Sir Michael Somare says it's the media that's creating negative perceptions.
MICHAEL SOMARE: This corruption thing, Mr Speaker, goes everywhere in every country but Papua New Guinea seems to get the worse end all the time when papers, when the newspapers give us the publicity and I am concerned, I'm very concerned about our image that is being tarnished by our papers. I think they need to be more responsible. Factual reporting is what we need in this country, it's not sensational reporting.