A photographer, an assistant cameraman and a hairstylist working with top Bollywood film directors and producers were held at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport on Thursday for helping minors from Punjab travel to Europe using forged documents. The trio, who were paid Rs 1 lakh per trip, claimed that they had taken at least 15 boys to Europe so far.
While the three have been remanded in police custody till April 29, the minors have been sent to a juvenile remand home, the police said.
The Anti Robbery and Dacoity Cell of the Mumbai Police Crime Branch acted on a tip-off and detained the trio at the airport while they were accompanied by four minors.
“The accused posed as parents of the children and got passports and visas made in the names of the children using forged documents,” said K M M Prasanna, the additional commissioner of police (crime).
The accused, Kurla resident Areef Shafi Farooqui (38), Rajesh Pawar (47), from Khar Danda and Nagpada resident Fatima Fareed Ahmad (48), work with several top directors and producers, Prasanna said, and frequently travel to Europe for professional purposes. He added that Farooqui, who is a still photographer, is the main accused.
The police said that the parents of the children got in touch with a man in Punjab to send the boys to Europe using illegal means.
While the man’s links with the arrested trio is under investigation, the police have said that the parents had paid Rs 10 lakh each to him.
“The man in Punjab took the money from the willing minors and co-ordinated with the accused in Mumbai. He was paid Rs 2 lakh and Rs 1 lakh was paid to each of the carriers,” said Prasanna.
He added that rest of the money was used to arrange for the boys’ stay in Kurla while the forged documents were prepared and the process of applying for passports and Schengen tourist visas began.
Prasanna said the accused made fake birth certificates, school certificates and identity cards bearing names of schools in their locality for the children. “But the signatures of principals of the schools in Khar and Mazgaon are the same,” he said.
The police said the accused would usually apply for visas during the summer vacations posing as parents of the children. While Pawar, the assistant cameraman, made travel documents of two boys, Ahmad, the hairstylist, was responsible for the other two, the police said. “Our suspicion was aroused when we spoke to the two boys travelling as Pawar’s children. They could not reply in Marathi,” Prasanna said. The police said that the trio had booked tickets to Paris via Addis Ababa.
“The accused never took a direct flight,” said Prasanna.
Once in Paris, they had instructions to leave the boys and return with their passports and visas and destroy them.
“The accused were to fly out from Amsterdam and return to Mumbai via Doha so as not to arouse suspicion,” said a crime branch official.
The boys had been instructed to seek shelter at a gurudwara or with local Indian families.
“They were told that turning 18, they would get a citizenship there,” said Prasanna.
The police believe that the parents of the children who had been trafficked before sent them their original identification documents so that they could apply for citizenship. “They took advantage of the fact that the European countries tend to have a lenient view for minors,” said a crime branch official.