January 3, 2008

Obtaining a Fake Passport in Lima
Lima, Peru

A few days ago Dateline NBC aired a report about obtaining and traveling on false passports, focusing in on an individual here in Lima, Peru. The accompanying video is worthy of a watch.

This is an excerpt from the article, 'Enemies at the gate':

Border inspectors have a much harder time detecting passports known as stolen blanks, according to Everitt, real documents taken from official stock before they have been filled out. Illicit brokers buy them from corrupt officials or steal them, then customize them.

Of all the types of fraudulent passports, what concerns authorities the most is a genuine passport issued by a government agency under a false identity. Passports like those obtained by Barot are virtually undetectable, according to Henry Crumpton, a CIA veteran who retired earlier this year from the top counterterrorism post at the U.S. State Department.

NBC News traveled to Lima and found a flourishing black market. Around the corner from Peru’s Justice Ministry, brokers openly hawked all sorts of fraudulent papers, including birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, and passports.

At a marketplace a few miles away, a t-shirt vendor pulled out a plastic bag filled with stolen passports from a wide array of nations, among them: Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Canada, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Nearby, another merchant offered a stolen British passport for $100.

It was the passport of Alison Shelley, a young doctor in Birmingham, England. Shelley told NBC News her bag had been stolen at an outdoor café in Lima. "I went to pay and the bag was just gone," Shelley said. "I just felt really lost and just scared really."

Fake passport dealer

Mario, as a consultant for NBC, met with a man named Jorge at a restaurant in one of Lima’s main shopping districts. In a conversation recorded by NBC’s hidden cameras, Jorge boasted that he had lots of happy customers: "Look I've been at this for 25 years." He said he had started his career inside the Peruvian immigration service and had worked his way up. "I come from the basement."

Jorge promised Mario that, for the right price, he could deliver everything Mario would need to make it to the United States. He claimed that he could obtain genuine passports through his criminal contacts within government agencies. He gave Mario two options: a Peruvian passport or one from Spain.

Passports from Spain and most other European countries are prized on the black market because they do not require a visa to enter the United States.

Over the course of several meetings, Jorge brought Mario paperwork to sign, took him to get passport photos, and gave him a fraudulent birth certificate, along with a cover story for his new identity. Ostensibly, he was born in Peru to a family originally from a small town in Spain and was thus entitled to a Spanish passport.

Spanish authorities, speaking on condition of anonymity, later told NBC News that while the passport itself apparently was real, the information itself was never entered into official computer systems. As a result, they said, Mario most likely would never have been able to use it to enter Spain, but he might have been able to use it to travel in South America and even possibly make it to the United States.

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