x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Forgery cases swamp courts

Fake and fraudulent passports present a wide-ranging threat to UAE security, officials say.

Abu Dhabi // Fake and fraudulent passports present a wide-ranging threat to UAE security, officials say. According to the most recent figures from the Ministry of Interior, in 2008 nearly 1,100 fake passports were seized across the country. Forged documents have emerged at the centre of major criminal cases in recent months, from the assassination of the Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai, in which 32 suspects used false passports to enter and leave the country, to human trafficking rings.

"Eighty per cent of the cases in the State Security Court are over forged passports," said a senior state security investigator. The figures were confirmed by a top federal judge. Although there are no official figures on how many cases have been tried so far this year, court officials estimate that an average of 40 cases per week are heard by the court. The security court deals with matters affecting national security, from terrorism to counterfeit money.

The UAE has embarked on ambitious plans to detect fake documents at borders, installing iris scanners and collecting biometric data, such as fingerprints, upon entry. Yet officials say the issue of forged and fraudulently used passports is a widespread problem in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, which have busy airports and large migrant populations. Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani passports are among the most commonly forged travel documents, court officials say. The reason, an expert at the Ministry of Interior said, is that such passports typically have the fewest security features, making them most vulnerable to forgery.

"Although [fake passport holders] are criminals, they are also victims of these organised gangs, who sell these fake passports," the investigator said. In many of the cases that went to court, the passports were badly forged, the investigator said. "I can tell just by looking at [the passports] that they are fake. You don't even need a machine to be able to tell, that is how badly forged they are. But most of the defendants don't know that," the investigator said.

Use of a fake passport is punishable by six months in Al Wathba prison, deportation and a lifetime ban on returning to the country. According to federal law, all convicted foreigners are subjected to an eye scan if they are sentenced to deportation to ensure they do not return. There were 18 different forms of passport forgery, ranging from changing the photographs, fingerprints, names, other information and even identity theft, the judge said. Passports from European and North American countries include dozens of security features, some which are only known the issuing country. That made them much more difficult to forge, officials said.

"Fake passports are a worldwide problem and not just a phenomenon in the UAE," the investigator said. @Email:myoussef@thenational.ae hhassan@thenational.ae