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Last Updated: Friday, 1 December 2006, 17:07 GMT
My fake passports and me
From Kiev to Barcelona, in the back streets or the central markets, there are all sorts of people who can supply a fake European Union passport. Undercover reporter Shahida Tulaganova explored the dark corners of this secret industry as she travelled the continent acquiring 20 fake or stolen passports, using two of them to enter the UK illegally.

Six pictures of Shahida holding fake passports

I am from the former Soviet state of Uzbekistan but I have a British passport, which I got by living and working as a journalist in the UK for 10 years.

Here I am, in a tiny cafe right smack in the centre of London, learning how to go about getting a fake passport.

I am attending an informal seminar led by a passport dealer, along with six hopefuls who are living illegally in the UK.

We are told that all our problems can be solved by a "high quality" Czech passport. It will take just two weeks to obtain and cost a mere 1,500.

This may already sound surreal enough, but it was just the beginning of my journey across Europe in search of fake passports from all 25 EU member states.

My goal was to put some of them to the test at Britain's border controls.

Smuggling tips

Since the former Eastern bloc countries joined the EU in 2004, hundreds of thousands of Poles, Czechs, Lithuanians and others have come to work legally in Britain.

EU expansion opened a world of opportunity for those with the knowledge and skill to forge the passports of these countries for citizens of non-EU neighbouring countries.

And it turns out that getting fake passports is neither very difficult nor very expensive.

I am in the biggest open air market in Warsaw and it looks like there are plenty of people who are happy to help me.

I am directed to somebody who introduces me to somebody else, and finally I end up face to face with two innocent-looking pensioners.

They say that for just 300 euros they can get me a Polish passport in less than 24 hours.

This deal falls through, but another dealer has delivered Polish and Lithuanian passports, complete with my own photos and two different identities.

I also get my first tips about how to get into Britain: "Look smart and confident, avoid airports if possible and don't bring lots of bags with you," he says.

At another market - this one in Hungary - among the counterfeit Chinese goods, I find a Syrian man who agrees to help me in the name of Muslim solidarity.

Among the dealers I met, most were confident that their passports would get me into Britain.

One was so sure he said I did not have to pay until I had crossed into Britain. And another one offered me an insurance policy on his passport.

"It costs more but it's guaranteed. If by bad luck you do get caught your next passport is on us," he said.

I had good luck most of the time, mainly because I turned out to be better liar than even I expected.

SHAHIDA'S PASSPORTS
Shahida holding some of her new fake passports
UK, Germany
France, Italy
Sweden, Denmark
Finland, Estonia
Netherlands, Belgium
Spain, Portugal
Greece, Slovenia
Czech Republic, Poland
Austria, Slovakia
Lithuania, Latvia

Although the passport dealers were in a sense exploiting me, many of them were friendly and sympathetic to my supposed plight.

Since I was setting up various passport deals in various different countries simultaneously, I had to do a lot of travelling - including trips to Greece, Spain, Lithuania, Slovakia, Estonia and Luxembourg.

My quest came to an ugly end in Bulgaria, which has a reputation for being the source of some of the highest quality fake documents.

There I met an Albanian gangster who promised to obtain five fake passports for me.

I told him I needed five passports in order to pull off a benefit fraud in the UK.

He believed me.

After three weeks of negotiations on the outskirts of Sofia, the deal was all set.

Late at night I met with the Albanian to get the five passports with my hard cash in hand and a sense of foreboding.

I was right to feel nervous - the Albanian had no passports for me.

When I refused payment, he pulled out a sharp knife and took my cash anyway.

In not-so-beautiful downtown Sofia I ended my hunt for passports, and given what could have happened, I call it a happy end.

Twenty fake passports were more than enough to prove my point.

It took me just five months to get 20 fake EU passports.

If I can get in so easily to Britain on not one, but two fake passports, just think who else could get in?
Shahida Tulaganova

Some of them were of the very best quality and were unlikely to be spotted as fakes by even the most stringent of border controls.

This meant that once in the UK I could start a new life with somebody else's identity, find work, open a bank account and eventually become a British citizen.

I met many immigrants in the UK on fake identities and passports.

Many of them were here only for work, but I also met quite a few dodgy characters who are dealing with banking scams and benefit fraud.

The first time I tested out my fake passports, I travelled on the ferry from Bilbao, Spain to Portsmouth, having been told border controls are most lax at Britain's seaports.

The immigration officer scrutinised the passport - my fake Latvian - but let me pass through. But then officer approached me and took me into a separate room for questioning, but after a few questions let me go.

My second border crossing was at Waterloo Station, where I arrived from Brussels on the Eurostar. I was advised against taking this route by all of the passport dealers, who said that the double border controls were tough at the Eurostar terminals.

But they were not tough enough: my fake Estonian passport did the job. And this time there was no additional interrogation.

If I can get in so easily to Britain on not one, but two fake passports, just think who else could get in?

  • Panorama: My Fake Passports and Me was broadcast on Monday 4 December 2006, 21:00 on BBC One.



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