Gang jailed for ‘golden ticket’ passports scam that let serious criminals go on the run
A gang who supplied “golden ticket” falsified passports to fugitive criminals including murderers and drug dealers has been jailed.
Anthony Beard was part of a gang who paid vulnerable people for their expired passports so he could apply for renewals using their names but criminals’ photos.
He was sentenced to six years and eight months at Reading Crown Court on Tuesday.
Beard was jailed after admitting conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to make a false instrument with intent.
Another 74 offences linked to fraudulent passport applications were taken into consideration.
High level criminals paid up to £20,000 for the fraudulently obtained genuine (FOG) passports, that enabled them to go on the run and start a new life abroad in countries including Spain, Portugal and cities such as Dubai.
The court heard how passports were obtained for customers including Glasgow murderers Jordan Owen and Christopher Hughes, Liverpool drug trafficker Michael Moogan, Manchester fugitive David Walley and suspected Scottish drug traffickers Barrie Gillespie, Jamie Stevenson and James White.
Beard, 61, from Sydenham, south east London, put contact numbers of his own burner phones on official forms and countersigned some of them himself as he shepherded more than 100 fraudulent applications through to completion.
He would find people with similar facial features to his criminal clients and pay them to donate their expired passports, with other contacts pretending to be professionals to vouch that the criminals’ photos were genuine.
Evidence of his offending went back to 2007, but Beard was heard bragging that he had been operating the scam for 20 years.
In 2019 he began working with Christopher Zietek, a broker who represented a Glaswegian crime gang allegedly run by two brothers called James and Barrie Gillespie; and a man described both as Zietek’s “trusted lieutenant” but also his “dogsbody”, Alan Thompson.
Zietek, 67, who had homes in Sydenham, Ireland and Spain, was jailed for eight years for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, conspiracy to make a false instrument with intent and converting criminal property.
Thompson, 72, from Sutton in Surrey, was sentenced to three years for the same offences. Both men were found guilty on March 17 after a trial.
Passing sentence on Tuesday, Deputy Circuit Judge Nicholas Ainley said of the scheme: “It was to enable very wicked, sophisticated, violent criminals to escape justice by providing them with documents that because they were genuine would deceive the authorities to enable them to escape.”
He said that Zietek was “clearly the organiser”, providing a link to serious criminals, while Beard was “the leg man” and Thompson had a lesser role.
Zietek, formerly known as Christopher McCormack, was also once an enforcer for north London crime group the Adams family, investigators believe.
Lawyers for the trio pointed to their age and various health problems in mitigation.
Craig Rush, for Thompson, said he had been forced to retire on medical grounds in 1999, and by 2017 was so bored that he was driven to crime.
Describing Thompson meeting Zietek, he said: “These days from 1999 to 2017 or 18 watching Homes Under The Hammer, daytime TV, totally bogged down in a world of ennui and boredom, were lightened by a man who could spin an interesting story.”
Thompson had become a gofer for Zietek “not for money but because it gave him something to do”, Mr Rush told the court.
Investigators from the National Crime Agency (NCA) believe Beard was responsible for at least 108 fraudulently obtained genuine passports being issued, with several more unsuccessful applications made.
The passports enabled serious criminals to go on the run from the UK and start a new life abroad, remaining undetected even if they had a brush with the law under their fake name.
Craig Turner, NCA deputy director of investigations, said: “This was the golden ticket for the organised crime networks in order that they could evade arrest, evade identification by local law enforcement either internationally or at home in the UK.”
Once the passport scam was uncovered, the fake identities of around 50 fugitives were discovered and they were arrested.
The trial heard how Beard also obtained fake passports for Stephen Lawrence murder suspect Jamie Acourt, Irish drug kingpin Christy Kinahan Snr and firearms trafficker Richard Burdett, although these were not part of the trial.
Acourt spent more than two years on the run using the name Simon Alfonzo having been accused of leading a £3 million drug-smuggling plot.
He was arrested in Barcelona, Spain in 2018 after being spotted in surveillance footage of an associate of Beard by NCA investigators, and was later jailed for nine years for the plan that moved around 750kg of cannabis.
A fake passport was obtained for him by Beard but ultimately never reached Acourt.
The NCA said it now plans to make an application to recover proceeds of crime from the passport gang.