London gang jailed for supplying fake UK passports to 'violent' fugitive criminals

Alan Thompson, Christopher Zietek and Anthony Beard were jailed for their parts in a passport scam that allowed wanted criminals to go on the run. Credit: PA

A London gang that supplied fake UK passports to serious criminals, including murderers and drug dealers, for more than a decade has been jailed.

Anthony Beard, 61, from Sydenham, who paid vulnerable people for expired passports so he could apply for renewals using their names but criminals’ photos, was sentenced to six years and eight months at Reading Crown Court on Tuesday.

He was jailed after admitting conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to make a false instrument with intent.

High level criminals paid up to £20,000 for the fraudulently obtained genuine (FOG) passports, that enabled them to go on the run and start a new life abroad in countries including Spain, Portugal and cities such as Dubai.

Beard would find people with similar facial features to his criminal clients and pay them to donate their expired passports, with other contacts pretending to be professionals to vouch that the criminals’ photos were genuine.

A fraudulently-obtained genuine (FOG) Latvian passport in the name of Aleksejs Rustanovs issued to Christopher Hughes. Credit: PA

The passports enabled serious criminals to go on the run from the UK and start a new life abroad, remaining undetected even if they had a brush with the law under their fake name. Once the passport scam was uncovered, the fake identities of around 50 fugitives were discovered and they were arrested.

Evidence of his offending went back to 2007, but Beard was heard bragging that he had been operating the scam for 20 years.

In 2019 he began working with Christopher Zietek, a broker who represented a Glaswegian crime gang allegedly run by two brothers called James and Barrie Gillespie; and a man described both as Zietek’s “trusted lieutenant” but also his “dogsbody”, Alan Thompson.

Zietek, 67, who had homes in Sydenham, Ireland and Spain, was jailed for eight years for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, conspiracy to make a false instrument with intent and converting criminal property.

Thompson, 72, from Sutton in Surrey, was sentenced to three years for the same offences. Both men were found guilty on March 17 after a trial.

Screen grab taken from National Crime Agency handout video from 2018 of Anthony Beard, at a branch of Snappy Snaps in Bromley. Credit: PA

Passing sentence on Tuesday, Deputy Circuit Judge Nicholas Ainley said of the scheme: “It was to enable very wicked, sophisticated, violent criminals to escape justice by providing them with documents that because they were genuine would deceive the authorities to enable them to escape.”

Lawyers for the trio pointed to their age and various health problems in mitigation.

Craig Rush, for Thompson, said he had been forced to retire on medical grounds in 1999, and by 2017 was so bored that he was driven to crime.

Thompson had become a gofer for Zietek “not for money but because it gave him something to do”, Mr Rush told the court.

Investigators from the National Crime Agency (NCA) believe Beard was responsible for at least 108 fraudulently obtained genuine passports being issued, with several more unsuccessful applications made.

Craig Turner, NCA deputy director of investigations, said: “This was the golden ticket for the organised crime networks in order that they could evade arrest, evade identification by local law enforcement either internationally or at home in the UK.”

Their trial focused on 12 passports that were obtained for customers including Glasgow murderers Jordan Owen and Christopher Hughes, Liverpool drug trafficker Michael Moogan, Manchester fugitive David Walley and suspected Scottish drug traffickers Barrie Gillespie, Jamie Stevenson and James White.

Beard also obtained fake passports for Stephen Lawrence murder suspect Jamie Acourt, Irish drug kingpin Christy Kinahan Snr and firearms trafficker Richard Burdett, although these were not part of the trial.

Acourt spent more than two years on the run using the name Simon Alfonzo having been accused of leading a £3 million drug-smuggling plot.

He was arrested in Barcelona, Spain in 2018 after being spotted in surveillance footage of an associate of Beard by NCA investigators, and was later jailed for nine years for the plan that moved around 750kg of cannabis.

A fake passport was obtained for him by Beard but ultimately never reached Acourt.

The NCA said it now plans to make an application to recover proceeds of crime from the passport gang.

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