Two crime bosses who supplied fraudulent passports enabling murderers and drug traffickers to evade justice in the UK and cross international borders have been convicted.
Anthony Beard, 61, and Christopher Zietek, 67, were caught after a covert surveillance operation by the National Crime Agency found they provided fraudulently-obtained genuine passports (FOGs) to organised criminals over a five-year period.
Customers paid between £5,000 and £15,000 for the highly sought after documents, which were issued authentically but applied for using false information. They allowed them to operate abroad and carry on conducting criminality affecting the UK.
After the NCA established the false identities offenders were using, many fugitives have now been caught all over the world following joint working with UK police forces and international partners.
Among the recipients were Glasgow murderers Jordan Owen and Christopher Hughes, Liverpool drug trafficker Michael Moogan – who was jailed for 12 years today – Manchester fugitive David Walley, and suspected Scottish drug traffickers Barrie Gillespie, Jamie Stevenson and James White.
The NCA’s investigation codenamed Operation Strey started in 2017. It ran in partnership with the Dutch National Police and HM Passport Office – and has been one of the most significant undertaken by the agency in recent times.
Beard and Zietek’s crime group exploited vulnerable people – often with drink or drug problems – who were around the same age as their clients and with 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.
Beard, from Sydenham, London, was an expert in FOGs, and NCA officers believe he had been procuring them for 20 years.
He 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 Beard called HM Passport Office to chase up applications pretending to be the people named on the forms.
Beard, who pleaded guilty to fraud offences, also faces further charges in relation to FOGs used by other criminals, including Jamie Acourt, Christy Kinahan, and firearms trafficker Richard Burdett.
Zietek, who was formerly known as Christopher McCormack and was believed to be an enforcer for the Adams crime family in London, split his time between Sydenham, Ireland and Spain. He 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.
Zietek and Beard were arrested during coordinated NCA raids in October 2021.
Between them charges were brought for offences of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, conspiracy to make a false instrument with intent (passports and ID documents), and money laundering.
Beard changed his plea to guilty on 3 January 2023, the first day of a nine-week trial at Reading Crown Court. Zietek was found guilty today (17 March).
NCA Deputy Director Craig Turner said:
“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.
“The investigation demonstrates the NCA’s unique role in tackling the most serious and complex crime threats facing the UK. 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.
“The NCA continues to protect the UK from the serious and organised criminals who present a threat to our security, people and economy.”
Zietek diversified into supplying false Latvian documentation to some criminals, including Christopher Hughes who was wanted by Police Scotland, as the impact of the investigation had begun to make obtaining British FOGs more difficult.
In December 2019, Zietek needed to travel to Portugal to hand over the Latvian documentation to Hughes in person but paid a woman he knew to travel instead.
Recordings of conversations revealed Zietek giving the woman tips about avoiding detection at the airport, and what to say if apprehended. Hughes’s Latvian passport was wrapped up and placed it in a Garmin Edge box to make it look like a Christmas present.
After the courier checked in her baggage, it was covertly searched by NCA officers before the flight departed the UK. A DNA profile recovered from the passport was a match for Zietek. The woman handed Hughes the passport at a hotel in Portugal before returning to the UK just an hour later.
Another member of the crime group, Alan Thompson, 72, from Sutton, Surrey, was also found guilty today. He worked for Zietek doing everything from chauffeuring him to criminal meetings to performing necessary tasks for the brokering of FOG passports, including meeting Beard when Zietek was abroad. A FOG passport and several photographs of FOG customers were located at his home.
Specialist prosecutor for the CPS, Giorgina Venturella, said: “The service provided by the defendants in this organised crime group enabled serious criminals, including drug and firearm traffickers and murderers, to go on the run as fugitives to evade detection and conduct criminal business internationally under false identities.
“Following collaboration with the NCA, the CPS was able to build a strong case resulting in their conviction, disrupting a major organised crime network and helping to dismantle their illegal operation.”
All three will be sentenced at Reading Crown Court at a later date.
17 March 2023