Washington, DC - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) supported a joint effort by 19 EU Member States targeting an organized crime network involved in the production and distribution of forged travel documents. After being clued in to the network by the discovery of stolen U.S. passports in Greece, HSI agents in Athens worked with the Hellenic Police to disrupt the organization. With the support of Europol, 16 persons were arrested in Greece on May 25, and three in the Czech Republic on May 10.
The HSI office in The Hague provided 2,084 financial leads developed over a five month period monitoring money transfers, helping their European partners connect two parallel investigations into the Athens-based operation providing falsified documents to third country nationals (TCNs) in European Union (EU) Member States and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Composed of two distinct criminal groups, the Athens component of this operation sent 557 parcels through courier companies in 2015. Associates of this criminal network in the Czech Republic purchased stolen or lost documents, which included passports, national ID cards, Schengen visas, driving licenses, asylum seeker’s registration cards and residence permits, before sending them to Greece to have them altered and shipped back to the Czech Republic for distribution. The fees for the forged documents ranged from over $100 to more than $3,000 per piece depending on the quality, type and country of issue.
This effort, known as Operation ERMIS, demonstrates the key role HSI plays a key role in combating cross-border crime as a leader in the global fight against transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) that exploit legitimate travel, trade and financial systems for illicit purposes and threaten global security.