A MAN suspected of supplying a fraudulent passport to Irish crime boss Christy Kinahan has been convicted in Britain for providing similar documents to a raft of dangerous criminals.
Anthony Beard, 61, from Lewisham in London, is believed to have been procuring fraudulently-obtained genuine passports (FOGs) for two decades.
Beard's co-accused, Christopher Zietek, 67, of Sydenham, London, and Alan Thompson, 72, of Sutton, Surrey, were found guilty at Reading Crown Court on Friday of being involved in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, conspiracy to make fraudulent passports and Latvian ID documents and money laundering.
Beard had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to make fraudulent documents on the first day of the trial in January.
"This organised crime group supplied fraudulent passports that enabled some of the UK's most serious and dangerous criminals to operate internationally under false identities and pose a sustained threat to the public," said Craig Turner, Deputy Director of the NCA.
Drug dealers and murderers
Beard and Zietek — who was formerly known as Christopher McCormack and split his time between Sydenham, Ireland and Spain — were the ringleaders of the operation.
Thompson worked for the latter, doing everything from chauffeuring him to criminal meetings to performing necessary tasks for the brokering of FOG passports.
The crime group exploited vulnerable people — often with drink or drug problems — who were around the same age as the gang's criminal clients and had similar facial features.
They were paid for providing their expired passports and their details were used to apply for new ones but with photographs of the criminals.
The OCG also paid others to counter-sign passport applications.
Recipients of the documents included Glasgow murderers Jordan Owen and Christopher Hughes, Liverpool drug trafficker Michael Moogan, Manchester fugitive David Walley and suspected Scottish drug traffickers Barrie Gillespie, Jamie Stevenson and James White.
Customers paid between £5,000 and £15,000 for the documents, which enabled them to cross borders and conduct illegal business undetected.
Beard faces further charges in relation to FOGs used by other criminals including Kinahan, Jamie Acourt and firearms trafficker Richard Burdett.
The gang was caught as a result of Operation Strey, the NCA's five-year covert surveillance investigation that was run in partnership with the Dutch National Police and HM Passport Office.
Beard was involved in every aspect of organising and applying for the passports, including collecting application forms and planning the details to be provided by the applicant and the counter-signatory.
His fingerprints were found on many of the forms and contact numbers he included were for numerous 'burner' phones he operated.
Handwriting experts established he completed most of the application forms, and a voice recognition specialist determined he called HM Passport Office to chase up applications pretending to be the people named on the forms.
Zietek acted as the FOG broker and exploited his criminal connections to obtain clients for the crime group.
The NCA captured audio recordings in Zietek's house of incriminating conversations with Beard and others about the application processes and their customers.
Officers also observed meetings with identity donors or counter-signatories, analysed reams of mobile phone and cell site data and deployed undercover officers to deliver some of the passports.
He and Beard were arrested during coordinated NCA raids in October 2021.
Meanwhile, a FOG passport and several photographs of FOG customers were located at Thompson's home.
"The investigation demonstrates the NCA's unique role in tackling the most serious and complex crime threats facing the UK," said Turner.
"We have identified a chronic, under-the-radar conspiracy that enabled drug and firearm traffickers, murderers and fugitives to evade justice and we have worked across borders to dismantle it and the bring the masterminds to account."
All three men will be sentenced at Reading Crown Court at a later date.