A group involved in the manufacture and supply of up to 3,000 counterfeit identity documents has been jailed.
Following a proactive investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service, officers found the group had been involved in the supply and production of false identity documents at two venues in north London and were laundering the proceeds of their criminal enterprise through bank accounts they were controlling.
Detective Chief Superintendent Alexis Boon, from the Met’s Specialist Operations Command, said: “This group was producing thousands of false identity documents and supplying and selling them on for profit.
“Thanks to the excellent investigative work by the detectives on this case, their criminal activity was identified and stopped and they are now facing lengthy jail sentences. We’ve already secured a confiscation order for £250,000 from one of the men involved. We will also be seeking further confiscation orders for any assets the others have gained through their criminal activity to ensure they can’t profit from this.”
The fraudulent activity first came to light after police seized a package in January 2017, which contained a number of false identity documents and passports. Officers traced the package back to 34-year-old Sidamhed Bencherab. Benhcerab was arrested in relation to the false documents and after further enquiries he was charged with supplying articles for use in fraud to which he pleaded guilty in 2017.
Having seized Bencherab’s phone as part of their investigation, police analysts found Bencherab had sent images and personal information which matched details found in some of the false documents to another phone using the ‘Viber’ app. When they made further enquiries, officers found that the other phone number belonged to 45-year-old Boualem Benouaret.
Suspecting Benouaret was also involved in the supply of the false identity documents, officers carried out a surveillance operation. In August 2017 Benouaret was seen posting two packages, which were later recovered and found to contain more false identity documents. Benouaret was arrested later that month and was subsequently charged with supplying articles for use in fraud. He pleaded guilty to this offence on 20 November 2017 and was handed a suspended sentence of 15 months’ imprisonment. As mitigation, Benouaret claimed that he was unaware of the contents of the packages and was simply posting them on behalf of another.
Whilst enquiries continued, a third man - Radhouane Bouhafs, 39 years old - was stopped by police at Stanstead Airport in December 2017. During the stop, Bouhafs was found to be in possession of a driving licence in his wife’s name - Yasmina El Asfari (19.07.89) - along with a number of other bank cards in different names.
The cards were seized, although Bouhafs was not arrested at the time, giving the excuse that he had been sent the driving licence and was planning to return the other cards to the owners.
However, enquiries into the driving licence revealed it was fraudulent and Bouhafs, along with his wife El Asfari, were arrested on 13 March 2018 on suspicion of possessing a counterfeit document.
Furthermore, Bouhafs had, by the time of his arrest, also been placed under surveillance by police, as they suspected he was also involved in the production and supply of fraudulent documents. A fake Belgian passport, which had been posted by Benouaret and intercepted by police in August 2017 was analysed and Bouhafs’ DNA was found on the stitching.
Detectives also made enquiries into Benouaret’s email address and found evidence that images, biometric data and details that had been sent between Bencherab and Benouaret on the Viber app, had also been sent to an email address controlled by Bouhafs. It became clear that, beyond simply posting the false documents on someone else’s behalf, Benouaret had actually been involved in supplying details to Bouhafs who was then producing the false documents to order.
Upon his arrest, police carried out searches at Bouhafs’ address on Mitchell Road in Palmers Green as well as a flat on Harrow Road in Kensal Green that Bouhafs had been observed visiting on several occasions.
It was at the Harrow Road flat that officers found a number of specialist printers, laptops and blank cards all associated with the manufacture of false identity documents. Forensic analysis of the various items seized at the flat linked them to Bouhafs.
Whilst at the address in Harrow Road, officers also arrested 36-year-old Mohammed Haddouchi with whom Bouhafs was working to manufacture the false documents.
When they made enquiries with the letting agent, officers identified that the flat had been rented to Haddouchi, who had used fake I.D. to rent it out in a different name.
Detectives were also alerted by a member of the public to a bin bag full of discarded and shredded false identity documents nearby to Haddouchi’s home address in Priory Park Road. This was discovered just 10 days after Bouhafs was stopped at Stanstead Airport and documents from inside the bag were forensically linked to Bouhafs.
Within the bin bag, discarded paperwork linked to an address on Portland Road in Seven Sisters was also found and when they carried out checks with the letting agent, officers found it had been rented to Bouhafs under the same false name Haddouchi had used to rent the Harrow Road flat. Detectives believe the pair moved their criminal operation from Portland Road to Harrow Road after Bouhafs was stopped by police at Stanstead. Whilst investigating Bouhafs, officers also discovered that he was receiving housing benefits to the sum of around £48,000 to which he was not entitled, having failed to notify his local council in Enfield that he was working as a taxi driver.
During the course of their investigation, police also identified another man – Bojumma Bekkari, 50,– who had been involved in the fraudulent activity. From analysis of the laptops and documents seized in Harrow Road, officers identified that Bekkari had provided his own genuine identity documents, which were then used as templates to produce the fraudulent ones. Bekkari also later admitted to putting Bouhafs in touch with people seeking false identity documents. Financial enquiries into Bekkari also revealed he had fraudulently altered wage slips in order to rent another property.
In total, detectives recovered around 500 stolen or discarded counterfeit documents and found a further 2,500 completed templates for false documents on the laptops seized.
Sidamhed Bencherab (28.02.85), of Stamford Hill, N1, pleaded guilty to supplying articles for use in fraud (false identity document seized in January 2017) in late 2017. He was subsequently sentenced at Southwark Crown Court to 28 months’ imprisonment and was also subject to a confiscation order for £250,000.
Boualem Benouaret (23.04.74), of Victorian Road, N16 previously pleaded guilty in November 2017 to supplying articles for use in fraud (false identity documents seized in August 2017) and sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment, suspended in relation to this offence.
He was subsequently further charged with conspiracy to supply articles for use in fraud over a six-month period to which he pleaded guilty in April 2018. He was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday, 23 April to a 12-month community order with 80 hours unpaid work.
Radhouane Bouhafs (3.03.80), of Mitchell Road, N13, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply articles (false identity documents) for use in fraud, money laundering and fraud by false representation in relation to the housing benefit fraud. He was also found guilty of conspiracy to make articles for use in fraud and possession of an identity document with improper intention in relation to the false driving licence in his wife’s name. He was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday, 23 April to a total of seven years’ imprisonment.
Mohamed Haddouchi (20.01.83), of Priory Park Road, NW6, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make articles for use in fraud, conspiracy to supply articles for use in fraud and money laundering. He was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday, 23 April to three years and four months’ imprisonment.
Boudjumma Bekkari (05.10.88), of Green Lanes, N8, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply articles for use in fraud and fraud by false representation in relation to the wage slip fraud. He was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday, 23 April to a total of 28 months’ imprisonment.
+ A confiscation hearing in relation to Radhouane Bouhafs is due to take place on Tuesday, 30 July at Southwark Crown Court.
Yasmina El Asfari, 29, of Mitchell Road, N13, was found not guilty of conspiracy to supply articles (ID Documents) for use in fraud, Possession of an ID Document with improper intention and Money Laundering.