False passport and permit scam in Malawi probed

An investigation has turned a spotlight on systemic corruption in Malawi’s immigration department, involving the alleged issuing of fraudulent travel documents, work permits and citizenship rights to non-nationals in return for bribes of up to $2,000. 

A nine-member syndicate involving state officials – one allegedly in State House – and a private Lilongwe-based businessman is driving the fraudulent document scam, departmental sources have said.

The fraudulent issuing of travel documents, mainly, it is alleged, to Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals, has a direct bearing on South Africa. Sources in the department said many illegal immigrants are using corruptly obtained transit visas to cross into Mozambique en route to South Africa, their ultimate destination.

Attempts to reach South African Home Affairs Director-General, Mkuseli Apleni, and the deputy DG for immigration services, Jackie McKay, to establish whether the South African authorities were aware of the claim were unsuccessful.

The corruption appears to reach to the top echelons of both Malawi’s home affairs Ministry and the immigration department, which falls under it.

In March this year the former home affairs minister in Joyce Banda’s administration, Uladi Mussa; the former chief of immigration, Hudson Mankhwala; and David Kwanjana, former chief citizenship officer, were jointly charged in the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court with “corruptly issuing citizenship to Burundians and Rwandans, among other nationals”.

The documents allege that Mussa fraudulently granted citizenship documents to more than 50 foreigners in 2013 when he was minister of home affairs.

The three were charged with “neglect of official duty contrary to section 121 of the Penal Code and abuse of public office contrary to section 25B(1) of the Corrupt Practices Act”.

Court documents allege that the three men took bribes from foreigners in exchange for Malawian passports while Mussa was a minister. He has denied the charges, describing them as “a political tool to silence him”.

The case has been referred to the Lilongwe High Court for trial.

And last month opposition MP Harry Mkandawire alleged in Parliament that immigration department boss Masauko Medi had signed off on a consignment of blank passports from the company Technobrain that was subsequently found to be 250 passports short of the correct number.

Earlier, a stores officer had refused to sign for the defective consignment.

The serial numbers of the missing passports are said to run from MW853501 to MW853750. According to media reports, a Nigerian national using a Malawian name, Vincent Banda, was arrested in South Africa while travelling to the United Kingdom using Malawian passport number MW853507.

Medi, who has not been charged, referred amaBhungane’s questions to the principal secretary for Home Affairs and Internal Security Samuel Madula, who demanded a written questionnaire. However, five weeks after receiving the questions Madula had still not responded, despite several reminders.

In a related development, there has been of spate of arrests of immigration officials at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe and Blantyre’s Chileka International Airport in connection with the alleged fraudulent issuing of work permits and travel documents.

In late April, immigration officer Henry Kwanjana – the son of former chief citizenship officer David Kwanjana – was arrested at Kamuzu airport and charged with illegally issuing temporary work permits to foreigners. According to evidence before the Lilongwe Magistrate’s court, he is accused of issuing permits to Pakistani nationals.

And in June, police arrested six immigration officers at Chileka airport over the disappearance of an official sticker booklet containing 60 stickers used to authenticate visas. They were later charged with theft.

Sources linked the incidents at the two airports said: “These stickers are used for the illicit trafficking of Bangladesh and Pakistan nationals.”

Immigration department spokesperson Joseph Chauwa did not respond to amaBhungane’s questions, but later told Malawi’s Nation newspaper “there have been joint ongoing investigations between the (immigration) department and the Malawi Police Service” on these illicit dealings.

According to court documents, the visa book comprises three types of stickers: those used in transit visas, which normally cost $50 each; single-entry visas, which cost $75 each; and multiple-entry visas, which cost about $150 apiece.

Three senior sources in the immigration department, who asked not to be named, said that a syndicate lies behind the corruption in the immigration department, comprising junior and senior immigration department officials, an official in State House, and an Asian businessman based in Lilongwe.

The names of the State House official and the businessman are known to amaBhungane.

“The syndicate is international and has ... facilitators who act as middlemen in facilitating the travel of Bangladesh and Pakistan nationals to South Africa through Malawian airports of Chileka and Kamuzu,” said the one source.

“These middlemen have connections with senior officials and they provide particulars of the travellers needing visas. It is the seniors who hand over the details to junior officers, some of whom are stationed at headquarters while others are at the airports.”

Current home affairs minister Grace Chiumia told the Malawi Parliament last month that the government is aware of a syndicate operating in the immigration department and that the authorities are “investigating the issue”.

The sources said the standard bribe for a fraudulent transit visa was in the range of $1,500 to $2,000 The transit visa allows travellers to pass through Malawi to another country and is valid for seven days.

“Under normal circumstances, foreigners transiting through Malawi are supposed to get their visas from Malawian embassies in their countries of residence or the nearest country with diplomatic relations with Malawi,” said one source.

In Asia, Malawi only has diplomatic relations with Japan, India and the People’s Republic of China.

There were earlier signs that all was not well at Malawi’s airports. In 2015 the inspector general of police, Lexton Kachama, demoted seven officials in the criminal investigations department at Kamuzu airport after they had allegedly connived to permit three Bangladeshi nationals entry into the country without having their passports stamped by airport immigration officials.

Online publication Nyasatimes reported at the time that a Pakistan human trafficker had bribed each of the seven officials with $1,500 to let the Bangladeshi nationals into Malawi.

Kachama would not comment further. The national spokesperson for the police, James Kadadzera, said the anti-corruption bureau and the immigration department were better placed to comment on investigations at the department.

Meanwhile, the “passports for sale” racket has been highlighted in another court case: that of Rwandan genocide convict Vincent Murekezi, who was found in possession of two Malawian passports bearing different names.

Passport number MA606888 is in the name of Vincent Murekezi, making him as a Malawian born in Kigali, Rwanda, while passport MA078171 records him as Vincent Banda, a Malawian born in Mbeya, Tanzania.

During a Rwandan extradition application earlier this year, the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court heard that Murekezi “bribed his way to be naturalised as a Malawian citizen”. The Malawi media later alleged that he paid a hefty $5,000 to immigration officials for the passports.

The Rwandan government is seeking his extradition to Rwanda, where he was convicted in absentia in March this year and handed a life sentence for spearheading the killing of Tutsis during the 1994 genocide that cost over a million lives.1

He fled Rwanda and sought refuge in Malawi, where he allegedly obtained the Malawian passports. The case is ongoing.

The spokesperson for Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau, Egritta Ndala, said the bureau had launched an investigation into the immigration department, but “would not be in a position to know whether there was connivance or not as that would be known after the investigations (are) concluded”.

Decrowned thief in law Nedelya detained in France with Counterfeit passport

In the light of the numerous conflicts with other Ukrainian thieves, being arrested on the Cote d'Azur is the lesser evil for Nedelya.

June 26, Andrey Nedzelsky aka Andrey Lvovsky and Nedelya was detained in Nice.

French police detained the enforcer for the central and western regions of Ukraine based on the European warrant for arrest, issued at the request of Interpol, which had declared Nedelya wanted for a fake passport of a Hungarian citizen.

In Hungary, the thief, who currently awaits extradition to that country in a French prison, faces an imprisonment of up to 5 years, according to the country's legislation.

Nedelya was among more than 300 holders of fake Hungarian passports, whom the EU police identified and put on the wanted list after a criminal scheme for the mass production of counterfeit documents with the citizenship of Hungary had been exposed a year ago in Transcarpathia.

There is no reason to doubt that the France will extradite Nedzelsky to Hungary based on the so-called European arrest warrant, introduced by member countries of the European Union to simplify the procedure of extradition. Such an order provides for the automatic execution of a request for transfer of an alleged offender without checking its contents.

Meanwhile, Nedelya's high status in Ukraine and the strong attorney's support gives him every chance of receiving a minimum sentence in Hungary. 

I-CHECKIT stops 2,000 people at ports by crackdown on passports

More than 2,000 people have been refused entry to Ireland through the ports in the first six months of the year.

New figures show that more than five million travel documents have so far been checked under the new system, involving the vast majority of air passengers arriving here, regardless of nationality or route taken.

New figures show that more than five million travel documents have so far been checked under the new system, involving the vast majority of air passengers arriving here, regardless of nationality or route taken.

A key factor in the tightening up of security nationwide is the introduction of instant checks on passports and other travel documents with an Interpol database.

The move was introduced as a crucial measure in immigration security, but also anti-terrorism efforts to track the movements of suspected jihadis. Up until late last year, checks with Interpol's lost and stolen travel documents database could only be carried out infrequently.

They were usually done in circumstances where there were already suspicions surrounding a document or the person carrying it. After a highly successful pilot programme at Dublin airport from the end of November, it has been extended to other ports across the State.

New figures show that more than five million travel documents have so far been checked under the new system, involving the vast majority of air passengers arriving here, regardless of nationality or route taken.

Some passengers returning from the UK queried whether the new checks were related to the UK's imminent departure from the EU, but this is not the case. During the initial phase of the project, it was introduced for non-European economic area flights only.

But because of a better than expected implementation, with 100,000 passengers checked in the first two weeks, it has since been extended considerably to other flights by border management staff at the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS).

The checks have resulted in several hundred documents being identified as lost or stolen, with passports or identity cards being seized. Immigration authorities say that more than 250,000 scans per week are being undertaken, depending on the flow of passengers.

The threat level here remains at moderate, which means a jihadi terror attack is possible but not likely. But concerns remain that fighters returning to Europe from Syria could use Ireland as a transit point with the aid of false documentation.

Scanned

The new automated system allows for the travel documentation to be scanned instantly by front-line immigration officers at control booths at points of entry, with an immediate response as to whether there has been a "hit" received from the Interpol database.

Airport security is expected to be further enhanced shortly with the introduction of a permanent electronic gate system, which can cope speedily with large volumes of passengers through camera checks.

This follows a successful trial project.

And the deal that was negotiated last year with the UK for the advanced sharing of passenger information between the Irish and British authorities is now being extended to flights into the State from outside the EU.

"The enhanced checks are part of Ireland's commitment to playing its part in ensuring effective controls are in place across the EU and internationally so as to safeguard travel for legitimate passengers whilst also detecting those with malicious or other intent," the Department of Justice said last night.

Irish Independent

How CIA spies move freely through Europe on fake passports

Secret CIA documents advising undercover American spies on how to move through Europe on fake passports have been published online, revealing growing concern that tighter EU rules could blow the cover of US intelligence agents.

Two documents released by WikiLeaks show that CIA agents are currently able to freely enter and travel through the 26 countries of the Schengen Area with only a “minimal” risk that EU border guards will grow suspicious.

There is little chance of being detected when first entering the Schengen Area because European border guards are focused on “illegal immigration and criminal activities, not counterintelligence”, the CIA documents concluded.

However, US spies are worried about an EU plan to force travellers to give their fingerprints and have a photo taken when they first arrive at Europe’s border. The CIA said the new system, due to come online in 2015, “would increase the identity threat” for its agents travelling undercover.

Under the current rules, CIA agents travelling on fake US passports can enter any one of the Schengen countries without a visa and then move across Europe from Portugal to Finland without being asked for their documents.

Britain is not part of the Schengen Area, where travellers can cross borders without showing passports, but the documents suggest CIA spies would be similarly untroubled by British border security.

On one of the few occasions a CIA agent was challenged it appears he was stopped because he looked too scruffy to be a US diplomat travelling on a diplomatic passport."Overly-casual dress inconsistent with being a diplomatic passport holder may have prompted the referral," the CIA noted.

The unnamed officer was pulled into secondary screening by European security guards who found that his bag tested positive for traces of explosives.

The agent stuck to his cover story and said he had been involved in a counter-terrorism exercise in the US but the Europeans remained suspicious and concluded he was "being evasive and had trained in a terrorist camp".Despite their concerns, they let the veteran agent continue on his journey.

Excerpt from CIA document on secondary screening at airports:

Excerpt from CIA document on secondary screening at airports:

The documents from 2011 and 2012 also offer some general, and perhaps condescendingly obvious, advice to American spies pulled in for additional screening.

"Although a certain degree of nervousness is expected, persistent indications of deceptive behaviour will almost certainly extend the secondary interview," the document notes.

It also advises spies not to pay cash for one-way tickets or to buy tickets at the airport because such behaviour will likely raise suspicions.