Police in the UK arrested an Albanian woman on Monday on suspicion of providing up to 500 passports and laundering money for Albania gang members, according to a press release by the National Crime Agency. The 37-year-old woman, who hasn’t been named, was taken into custody in Ilford, in East London, on fraud charges. It is thought that she countersigned hundreds of UK passport applications and worked for a ring that was involved in human trafficking, child abuse, kidnapping, drugs, and other serious offenses.
She has since been released pending further investigation.
“Targeting professional enablers who provide services to organised crime groups is a high priority for the NCA,” said Andrea Wilson, NCA Regional Head of Investigations in a press release.
“We believe this network has provided criminals with a way to obtain UK passports, giving them the means to commit serious crime and travel around under the law enforcement radar,” Wilson added.
Officials from the Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) division of the Home Office participated in Monday’s operation, visiting ten businesses across London and the South of England, including restaurants, bars and car washes, thought to be connected to the criminal gang. Nine people were detained for immigration offenses, and six businesses were issued civil penalty referral notices.
The increasing prominence of Albania gangs involved in drugs and human trafficking to the UK has been a rising cause for concern for British authorities over the past few years.
According to the National Crime Agency almost 1000 Albanian victims of human trafficking were identified in 2018.
The influence of organised crime on Albanian politics, as well as rampant government corruption and allegations of vote rigging has brought tens of thousands of citizens to the streets in Albania in recent months. The protesters have called for the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama, the installation of a transitional government, and the holding of “free and fair” elections.