A criminal network supplying fraudulently obtained passports to the most deplorable members in society has been successfully caught and dismantled after a thorough investigation was conducted by the National Crime Agency.

Anthony Beard, who is 61, and Christopher Zietek, 67, were identified as the key ringleaders in charge of an organised criminal network that falsified genuine passports and supplied them to murderers and drug traffickers, enabling them to evade capture.

The covert surveillance operation – which combined the efforts of UK police forces and international partners – caught the group’s two main masterminds, ending a 5 year spree of offending. The operation – code-named, Operation Strey, which began in 2017 – has been one of the most successful fraud investigations ran in recent times.

The passports that cost between £5,000 and £15,000 each were illegally obtained under false identities. Evading capture until now, the group’s offending spanned abroad and affected the UK.

Among the recipients were Glasgow murderers Jordan Owen and Christopher Hughes, fugitive David Walley and drug trafficker Michael Moogan, who recently received a 12 year prison term.

The offenders targeted vulnerable people who often had a drug or drink dependancy and physically resembled their clients to use their identities and apply for new passports under false pretences.

Some of the convicted are thought to have continued their offending for over 20 years.

Handwriting experts established that Beard falsified most of the application forms, and a voice recognition specialist deduced that Beard called the HM Passport Office to monitor the progress of his applications.

Their criminality eventually unravelled with officers going to the lengths of observing meetings with identity donors or counter-signatories and monitoring mobile phone data. Undercover officers even delivered some of the passports.

NCA Deputy Director Craig Turner said:

“This organised crime group supplied fraudulent passports that enabled some of the UK’s most serious and dangerous criminals to operate internationally under false identities and pose a sustained threat to the public.

The investigation demonstrates the NCA’s unique role in tackling the most serious and complex crime threats facing the UK. We have identified a chronic, under the radar conspiracy that enabled drug and firearm traffickers, murderers and fugitives to evade justice, and we have worked across borders to dismantle it and the bring the masterminds to account”.