X

Fake Passport Racket: ‘Arrested Sri Lankans wanted to go to UK to escape poverty, threats to Tamils’

The lawyers said they were cheated by travel agents and that they did not know that the passports received were fake.

The four accused were arrested in March (Representational)

The four Sri Lankan nationals arrested in March for allegedly attempting to enter the UK with forged documents have said that they wanted to escape poverty, threats to Tamils and the hardships they faced during the civil war in their country, according to a chargesheet filed against them by the police.

On March 10, immigration officials at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport caught Sri Lankan nationals Suthakaran Arunasalam (34), Karthatheepan Kannathsan (26), Gajan Chandrabalan (31) and Kaveenthini Kandasamy (23), as they prepared to board a British Airways flight to London. The police found forged boarding passes for the flight with a fake departure stamp and forged Indian passports bearing the names of British nationals in the possession of three of them. Kandasamy had reportedly flushed her Indian passport in a restroom before she was caught.

At the same time, the Bureau of Immigration caught British nationals Julie Ann Warner, Dominic Bower, Stuart Quilliam and Captain Fivehats, just as they were about to board an Air India flight to Ahmedabad. Investigations later revealed that three agents — two Sri Lankans and one Indian — made Indian passports in the name of the British nationals and arranged for them to be exchanged on the airport premises.

The arrested Sri Lankan nationals were also booked to fly to Ahmedabad but managed to bypass immigration checks after checking-in for the domestic flight. The police later arrested Sunil Soni, a salesman who allegedly helped the agents obtain an Indian SIM card using forged documents, as well as Sri Lankan agent Reyappan Thevakumaran.

The Sahar police station, which booked all 10 accused with human trafficking, cheating and forgery under the Indian Penal Code, has filed two chargesheets in the case so far. In its supplementary chargesheet filed at Andheri magistrate court in August, the police has included statements that the Sri Lankan nationals gave to the Bureau of Immigration the day they were caught. The 400-page document includes statements of staff at hotels that the accused stayed at, of immigration officials and those they had met during their stay in India.

Arunasalam, a native of Poonakari village in northern Sri Lanka, told immigration authorities in his statement that Tamil families “faced many hardships during the civil war between the LTTE and Sri Lankan army” and “we live in poverty and the responsibility to support the family is on me”. The chargesheet adds that he decided to seek asylum in the UK due to the lack of proper employment opportunities in Sri Lanka. He then contacted a travel agent named Senathi in Colombo and paid him Rs 20 lakh (converted to Indian rupees), “for the operation”. Like the other accused, Arunasalam was received in Mumbai on March 9 by the wanted Indian travel agent Rajan and booked into a hotel in Andheri East.

The next day, adds Arunasalam’s statement in the chargesheet, he was met by Rajan inside the airport who handed him the forged Indian passport and the British Airways boarding pass and instructed him to keep his Sri Lankan passport concealed in luggage.

The parents of arrested accused Kannathasan, who wanted to travel to the UK in search of employment, paid agent Senathi the same amount of money as Arunasalam, the chargesheet adds. After being detained by immigration in Mumbai, however, his statement says that he had been cheated by the agent, who had “utilised my unawareness for his own profit motive”. Kannathasan also claimed to immigration that after spending “such a huge amount”, he had no option but to make himself ready to travel with the Indian passport “which was provided by Rajan”.

According to the chargesheet, Sri Lankan national Chandrabalan, a mobile technician from Colombo, wanted to escape due to alleged threats by Sri Lankan police to Tamil youth in Sri Lanka. “My parents planned to send me to UK for my better prospects,” he said in the chargesheet. He added that his parents paid Rs 18 lakh to the agent for his passage to the UK via India.

The fourth accused, Kandasamy, recorded two statements with the immigration board. In her statement on March 10, she claimed to authorities that her Sri Lankan Tamil family suffered economic hardships due to the civil war in my country. “I did petty jobs in supermarkets in Jaffna to support my family. I decided to seek asylum in UK for bettering my economic condition. Since UK does not directly accept refugees, I decided to enter it illegally with the help of a travel agent by name Senathi, a Sri Lankan national,” her statement in the chargesheet says. She also claimed to have paid Rs 20 lakh to the agent. After being provided a forged Indian passport and boarding pass for the British Airways flight at the airport, she claimed that she became nervous after seeing her fellow passengers being apprehended by immigration officials and went into the restroom and “destroyed the forged Indian passport there”.

However, her statement recorded on March 11 states that she arrived with the other three Sri Lankan men from Colombo “with the intention to further travel to UK on a fake Indian passport, which was provided to us by the agent. Four British nationals were also involved in this to help us obtain boarding passes from British Airways.”

The police has also recorded statements of staff at two hotels where the foreigners had stayed prior to their departure. The chargesheet adds that the agent Rajan had also booked nine other Sri Lankan nationals to stay in January and February and eventually sent them to London using forged documents.

The police also recorded the statement of the manager of a travel agency in Masjid Bunder, where wanted accused Logorajan had booked tickets to Ahmedabad for the accused Sri Lankan nationals. The manager told police that Logorajan had claimed to be a native of Vellore in Tamil Nadu.

In his statement, the manager had asked Logorajan why he only booked Air India flights. According to the chargesheet, Logorajan replied that all passengers he was booking tickets for would arrive from South Africa and they wouldn’t need to change terminals for their connecting domestic flights.

However, advocate Prabhakar Tripathi, who is representing the Sri Lankan nationals, said that his clients are the sole breadwinners of their families who were cheated by the travel agents. “There is no evidence in the chargesheet to show that the Sri Lankan nationals indulged in human trafficking. My clients were not aware about the fact that their agent had handed over forged documents to them,” he said.

srinath.rao@expressindia.com
Read/Post Comments

Outbrain