In a major breakthrough, the ‘Q’ Branch CID of the Tamil Nadu police has unearthed a massive fake passport racket across the State.

Eleven persons have been arrested and special teams are on the lookout for more suspects, including some police and revenue department officials, sources in the intelligence agencies said on Thursday.

After registering cases involving fake passports in Chennai, Nagapattinam and Pudukottai in recent weeks, police launched an investigation to uncover the entire racket. Based on specific inputs, Meeran of Triplicane here, alleged to be the prime suspect, was arrested.

On his confession, 10 others, including a police official of Tiruvarur district, were apprehended. “So far, we have seized 130 fake passports. Hundreds of such passports were issued to people who flew to Australia, Canada, United States and others countries in recent months. There is no record of these people returning. Perhaps, they have settled there or migrated to other countries,” a senior police official told The Hindu.

Modus operandi

Investigation revealed that the racketeers operated with the assistance of some government officials. They prepared passports in three ways: getting genuine passports using fake documents, replacing pages/photographs from genuine passports with fake ones and fabricating passports.

Going by the database seized from the suspects, investigators believe that hundreds of such fake passports were used over the years. “Taking the data into account, we are sending Look Out Circulars (LOC) to all international airports in the country through the Bureau of Immigration. Some persons who went abroad using these fake passports and visited India in recent days were picked up,” the official said.

The way people with fake passports sneaked out of the country has a striking similarity with the recent Hollywood blockbuster Argo. In the 2012 film that depicts a true story, Ben Affleck, who plays the lead role as a secret service agent, floats a fake film production company and goes to Teheran on the pretext of making a film. He rescues US diplomats hiding in the house of the Canadian Ambassador during the Iran revolution.

“The suspects went in groups to foreign countries saying they were part of a film production unit. While some came back, many others either stayed or migrated to other countries from there. Film-making and ‘star night’ events abroad were excuses to leave the country in groups,” the investigator said. Steps were being taken to alert Indian missions in countries where people with fake passports are staying. “We are looking for many others involved in the racket,” the official said and added that investigation so far had not indicated the involvement of any banned organisation or any extremist elements.