The Central Bureau of Investigation on Friday unearthed a major irregularity in Regional Passport Offices in Madurai and Chennai where a racket, including some officials, allegedly entertained fake documents for issuing passports. The Assistant Passport Officer of Madurai is among eight persons arrested.

According to sources in the agency, the Anti-Corruption Branch of the CBI had received a tip-off that passports were being issued in Madurai and Chennai based on forged documents.

Simultaneous surprise checks conducted in both the offices since early on Thursday revealed that some employees had colluded with touts to perpetrate the scam.

At the RPO in Madurai, a random check of applications pertaining to passports issued under the tatkal scheme confirmed that documents such as birth certificate, ration card, driving licence, certificate of educational qualification, among others, were forged. A couple of employees and touts allegedly took bribe from applicants and arranged for the fake documents.

“In cases where individuals had no address proof or educational qualification, the accused would use the documents of genuine applicants by taking photocopy after changing photographs. The staff in-charge of affixing the ‘original seen and returned’ seal were also bribed,” a senior CBI official said.

Another official in-charge of sending applications to the police for verification of address and antecedents would not do so though he would make an entry in the register. After a month, the passport would be issued to the applicants on the grounds that there was delay in receiving police verification certificate.

“Even the postman in an area was bribed…he would receive passports sent by registered post knowing well that the address was fake. The accused would collect the passports and issue them to the applicants later,” the official said.

Though alerts were issued by different agencies, Assistant Passport Officer of Madurai Geetha Bai allegedly did not take action to check the irregularity.

P. Durairaj, Assistant, and Anbalagan, Office Assistant, and touts Ibrahim Meeran and Bakruddin alias Babu have been arrested, he said.

Searches were conducted in the office and residential premises of the passport officials and touts, which resulted in the recovery of Rs.7 lakh, fixed deposits worth Rs.13 lakh in various banks, besides documents pertaining to immovable property. All the accused were produced before a Madurai court and remanded to judicial custody.

A surprise check at the Regional Passport Office in Chennai led to recovery of several forged documents. Upper Division Clerk P. Murugan allegedly received Rs.500 as bribe from two touts Manikandan and Loganathan for entertaining passport applications with fake documents. The three have arrested.

“We are in the process of verifying the number of passports issued based on forged documents. Many could have gone abroad for employment or other purposes…it is not clear how long the accused were indulging in this irregularity. Special teams are investigation the two cases,” the official said.