Woman believed to have helped Albanian organised crime groups obtain around 500 UK passports arrested by the National Crime Agency

A woman believed to have helped Albanian organised crime groups obtain around 500 UK passports has been arrested by the National Crime Agency.

The 37-year-old Albanian woman from Ilford was apprehended yesterday during an NCA-led multi-agency day of action, targeting a criminal network suspected of facilitating British citizenship and passports, false accounting and money laundering for criminals.

Officers believe the network have provided services to criminals involved in drug trafficking, people smuggling, human trafficking, child abuse, kidnapping and serious violence.

The woman, who is alleged to have built a business on a false identity and countersigned hundreds of UK passport applications, was arrested by NCA officers at an address in East London on suspicion of fraud offences. She has since been released under investigation.

The operation against the wider criminal network included the execution of a number of warrants involving Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO), Border Force, and Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE).

Andrea Wilson, NCA Regional Head of Investigations, said: “Targeting professional enablers who provide services to organised crime groups is a high priority for the NCA.

“We believe this network has provided criminals with a way to obtain UK passports, giving them the means to commit serious crime and travel around under the law enforcement radar.

“Working with partners has allowed us to disrupt this network and ultimately stop them from fuelling organised crime and destroying communities.

“We are continuing our investigation into the wider network and to track down those in receipt of these passports - I want to be clear that our work to disrupt organised criminals trying to flout the justice system does not stop here.”

ICE officials also visited ten different businesses across London and the South of England, including restaurants, bars and car washes, believed to be associated with the criminal network. Nine individuals were arrested and detained for immigration offences, while six businesses were issued with a civil penalty referral notice.

Tony Eastaugh, Director of Crime Enforcement at the Home Office, said: "We will not tolerate criminal gangs who attempt to evade the UK's immigration controls and allow dangerous foreign offenders to live and work in the UK.

“This operation is a good example of how Immigration Enforcement can support law enforcement teams to disrupt organised criminal networks and those who associate with them and put an end to the illegal activity.”