End of the road for 6 suspects smuggling migrants in rental cars

 With the support of Europol in the field, the Portuguese Judiciary Police (Polícia Judiciária Portuguesa) carried out on 17 July a series of actions against a prolific criminal network. This criminal group were facilitating the illegal obtainment of Portuguese residence permits for Asian irregular migrants across Europe with the use of fake documents. 

A total of 6 suspects have been arrested, and searches conducted at 12 houses and 6 hostels, following action involving 110 officers from the Judiciary Police (Polícia Judiciária) and 12 officers from the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras). This action is the result of a joint investigation started one and half years ago between France and Portugal, with the support of Spain and Germany, together with Europol and Eurojust. 

From France to Portugal by rental car

The smugglers used a unique modus operandi to carry out their illegal activity: they would abuse an online issuance process of Portuguese residence permits by facilitating migrants to illegally apply for it. They managed this by reporting fraudulent permanent addresses and occupations of the migrants in Portugal. 

This process would mainly take place virtually, except for an in-person interview. In this case, the criminal group would rent various vehicles in Portugal to pick up the migrants, who were residing in various EU countries, from an agreed meeting point in France. From there the migrants were brought to Portugal to attend the interview, before the criminals would transfer them back to France via small mountain passes to avoid law enforcement detection. The migrants would then continue their journey within the EU with their newly acquired documentation. 

To date, France reported the interception of 18 smugglers belonging to this network, apprehended while trying to cross the French-Spanish border on their way to Portugal with a total of 150 irregular migrants. However the joint investigation highlighted that the network rented at least 337 vehicles over the past one and half years, allowing the transport of as many as 6000 irregular migrants. For performing the irregular application procedure the organisers asked up to EUR 10 000 per migrant, and charged EUR 200 to EUR 400 for the transport between France and Portugal. 

Successful European cooperation

Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, organised 7 operational meeting and provided more than 10 analytical products. Eurojust also organised 3 coordination meetings and supported the creation of a Joint Operational Team between France and Portugal. 

On the action day, Europol deployed European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) experts to Lisbon, Portugal, to facilitate real-time communication exchanges and facilitated the deployment of officers from France, Spain and Germany. This investigation was carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).