Judicial and law enforcement authorities today (20 November 2012) conducted a successful joint operation in the UK, Portugal and France, supported and coordinated by Eurojust and Europol, against an illegal criminal network involved in illegal immigration for the purpose of obtaining administrative documents via sham marriages.
The investigation was started in Portugal in August 2010 by theServico de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (Immigration Service) and resulted in investigations being initiated in the UK by the UK Border Agency, and in France by the Central Office for Repression of Illegal Immigration and Employment of Untitled Foreigners (OCRIEST), led by an Investigating Judge of the Juridictions Interrégionale Spécialisée (JIRS) of Paris. A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) agreement was signed between the UK and Portugal on 30 January 2012. France joined the existing JIT on 16 May 2012. This tripartite JIT was co-funded by Eurojust.
The operations (“Cupid” in the UK, “Justes Noces” in France, “Xeque ao Rey” in Portugal) relate to sham marriages and illegal immigration involving Pakistani, Portuguese, Indian and Nigerian citizens mainly active in Portugal, the UK, France and Denmark. Investigations established that the Portuguese organised crime group had been recruiting prospective brides and grooms in Portugal, and was offering, in exchange for large sums of money, the possibility for persons without any residence permits to marry in various Member States and apply for EU citizenship a few years later.
Today’s actions were conducted simultaneously in the UK, Portugal and France. To facilitate direct cooperation, UK and French police officers were present in Portugal while Portuguese counterparts were present in the UK and in France. A total of 24 persons were arrested in the participating Member States. One European Arrest Warrant issued by the French authorities was executed in Portugal. Some suspected illegals, most of them travelling from Spain, were arrested in Portugal. A total of 23 residences and one business premises were searched. Seizures included cash, documentation, mobile telephones, SIM cards, computers, one hard disc drive and 1.5 kg hashish.
An Operational Coordination Centre (OCC) was set up at Eurojust starting at 6:00 on the action day, run by the Eurojust UK Desk with the assistance of the Eurojust Case Analysis Unit. Present at the OCC as observers were representatives of the UK Border Agency and the UK Home Office as well as one Portuguese Immigration and Border Police officer. The operation was supported on the action day by Europol’s Illegal Immigration Team and the deployment of its Mobile Office in France and Portugal. The intelligence gathered during the operation was analysed and exchanged in real time and the collected data was immediately cross-matched. This coordinated multi-agency approach brought added value to the operation.
Mr Ian Welch, Seconded National Expert to the UK Desk at Eurojust, commented: “Cases of this nature are extremely difficult to investigate. The cooperation and coordination of arrests and searches between different Member States coordinated by Eurojust has lead to a successful outcome today”.
Mr Jose Guerra, Deputy National Member for Portugal at Eurojust, added: “This operation is a good example of a new approach in combating cross-border crime at EU level. By setting up a JIT, authorities from three different Member States were able to tackle a common threat. In the end, Eurojust proved to have an exceptional role to play by filling gaps and enhancing coordination between the national authorities even where, by means of a JIT, coordination was already in place”.
Mr Nicolas Chareyre, Assistant to the French National Member at Eurojust, concluded: “This D-Day is a great success for judicial and police cooperation. Thanks to a better understanding between national authorities and in particular the setting up of a JIT with the support of Eurojust, this organised crime network was dismantled”.