By Chris King •
Updated: 22 Jul 2023 • 0:53
Image of police officers meeting.
THE Portuguese Judiciary Police (Polícia Judiciária Portuguesa) carried out a series of actions against a prolific criminal network this Monday, July 17.
This criminal group were facilitating the illegal obtainment of Portuguese residence permits for Asian irregular migrants across Europe with the use of fake documents, according to a statement from Europol.
With the support of Europol in the field, a total of six suspects were arrested. Searches were also conducted at 12 houses and six hostels.
Around 110 officers from the Judiciary Police participated in the operation, supported by 12 officers from the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras).
This action was the result of a joint investigation started 18 months ago between France and Portugal, with the support of Spain and Germany, together with Europol and Eurojust.
As detailed by Europol, the smugglers used a unique modus operandi to carry out their illegal activity. They would abuse an online issuance process of Portuguese residence permits by facilitating migrants to illegally apply for it. They managed this by reporting fraudulent permanent addresses and occupations of the migrants in Portugal.
The process mainly took place virtually, except for when an in-person interview was necessary. In that case, the criminal group rented various vehicles in Portugal to pick up the migrants, who were residing in various EU countries, from an agreed meeting point in France.
From there, the migrants were driven to Portugal to attend the interview. The criminal gang subsequently transferred them back to France via small mountain passes to avoid law enforcement detection. They would then continue their journey within the EU with their newly acquired documentation.
To date, France reported the interception of 18 smugglers belonging to this network. They were all apprehended while trying to cross the French-Spanish border on their way to Portugal with a total of 150 irregular migrants.
However, the joint investigation highlighted that the network rented at least 337 vehicles over the past 18 months, facilitating the transport of as many as 6,000 irregular migrants.
For performing the irregular application procedure the organisers asked for up to €10,000 per migrant, and charged them €200 to €400 for providing their transport between France and Portugal.
Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, organising seven operational meetings and providing more than 10 analytical products.
Eurojust also organised three coordination meetings and supported the creation of a Joint Operational Team between France and Portugal.
On the day of action, Europol deployed European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) experts to Lisbon, Portugal. Their task was to facilitate real-time communication exchanges and facilitate the deployment of officers from France, Spain and Germany.
This investigation was carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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