RCMP bust passport fraud scheme tied to Canada's 'most wanted'
Police say passports with fake names issued to cocaine traffickers, high profile murder suspect
The RCMP have arrested a man accused of duping Passport Canada into issuing passports under fake names to some of Canada’s most notorious criminal suspects, CBC has learned.
The RCMP alleges the passport fixer was aiding high-level cocaine traffickers including the infamous Alkhalil brothers, one of whom is wanted for two deadly shootings in Toronto and Vancouver.
“He was facilitating the obtaining of Canadian passports in exchange for money,” said RCMP National Division Insp. Costa Dimopoulos, who told CBC News that criminals are willing to spend $5,000 to $20,000 for a genuine document issued under an assumed name.
Police charged Harbi Mohamoud (Dave) Gabad last Friday with a string of passport and identity fraud offences after the RCMP’s Sensitive and International Investigations Section (SIIS) searched his Gatineau, Que., apartment looking for hard drives, photos and other evidence.
“Canadian passports are coveted by people in the criminal underworld,” Dimopoulos said. “It’s allowing you to move freely internationally without fear of being captured. It allows you the ability to hide, essentially, from police.”
To date the RCMP have linked Gabad to 13 fraudulent passport applications, including eight that were actually issued by Passport Canada under assumed identities, according to search warrant documents filed in court.
Criminal suspects tied to passport probe
Police say the passports were winding up in the hands of a crime group tied to the remaining members of the Alkhalil family (two of the five Alkhalil brothers were gunned down in gang-related violence in B.C. in the early 2000s).
“The Alkhalil brothers are a family that moved here a number of years ago from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia,” Ottawa police Acting Insp. Mike Laviolette told CBC News. “They are well-known in the law enforcement community for criminality mainly dealing in cocaine and the violence associated to this family and their associates.”
RCMP allegations filed in court documents detail the high-level suspects tied to the passports:
- Robby Alkhalil, 27, was caught in Greece with a genuine Canadian passport under an assumed identity according to police. He awaits extradition to Canada accused of drug offences and the fatal shooting of Johnny Raposo at the Sicilian Cafe in Toronto’s Little Italy in June 2012 and the point-blank execution of rival gang leader SandipDuhre at the downtown Vancouver Sheraton Wall Centre in January 2012.
- Nabil Alkhalil, 38, is a convicted cocaine trafficker who served a seven-year prison sentence. The RCMP say they are looking for him on identity theft charges after he was detected arriving at the airport in Bogota, Colombia, with a fraudulently obtained genuine Canadian passport. He was escorted back to Panama City on his way to Mexico, and has since disappeared;
- Hisham (Terry) Alkhalil, 32, was arrested in Ottawa in January and charged in an alleged multimillion-dollar cocaine trafficking ring. The RCMP say two passport photos of Hisham Alkhalil were found on a CD at Gabad's home, but they have no evidence he obtained a passport;
- Shane Maloney was arrested in 2012 accused, with Robby Alkhalil, of being part of a pan-Canadian cocaine import and B.C. bud export ring tied to the Hells Angels. The RCMP allege a passport application intended for Maloney was detected as a fraud and never issued;
- Kujtim (Timmy) Lika was wanted on organized crime and drug charges by the FBI and was featured on America’s Most Wanted when he was arrested in Toronto in May 2012. He had been issued a Canadian passport in the name of an assumed identity.
Facial recognition spotted duplicates
Passport Canada has spent tens of millions of dollars enhancing security of Canada’s “ePassport” to make the document difficult to counterfeit by criminals and potential terrorists. To combat fraudulent applications among the five million requests they receive each year, they have used facial recognition technology since 2009 to scan for duplicate images within a database of 34 million photos.
Investigators then discovered a series of passports and applications that shared a pattern: all were mailed from applicants living in the Outaouais area of Quebec; all used Quebec birth certificates as proof of citizenship; and many shared identical guarantors and related references and emergency contacts.
It led the RCMP to Gabad, who they allege paid desperate drug addicts, the homeless and mentally ill to forfeit identity documents to be used to submit fraudulent applications on behalf of high-paying criminals.
Police are now sorting through evidence seized in their search of Gabad’s apartment earlier this month to determine whether there are any more fraudulent passports or applications in circulation, in addition to the ones already frozen or denied.
Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman Nancy Caron told CBC in an email that "Passport Canada has rigorous processes in place to confirm identity and ensure that a passport is issued only to an individual entitled to one. A combination of trained passport officers and specialized technology is used to verify applicant identity through data authentication and facial recognition."
Passport Canada statistics from the past five years show the agency discovers an average of 66 genuine passports each year that were issued to fraudsters. The agency says it reports about a dozen of them to police in cases where it suspects serious criminality. The agency also has the power to revoke passports from people who aid in a fraudulent application.
Steve Hewitt, a senior lecturer of Canada-U.S. studies at the University of Birmingham in England says the debate on secure passports goes back to the 1930s.
"The RCMP in the 1960s wanted everyone to be fingerprinted, to be included on the passport, to create a national registration system to ensure a higher level of accuracy," said Hewitt, who has written extensively on the fraudulent use of Canadian passports. "The government said it wasn’t politically acceptable. Canada wasn’t a police state.
"So you can have the most secure passport in the world, but if there is some concern about the identity of the person applying for one, it’s difficult to prevent."
An RCMP search warrant on the home of Harbi Mohamoud Gabad, alleged fraudulent passport fixer also known as Dave, outlines the alleged scheme to provide criminals, and others willing to spend $20,000, with a clean Canadian passport in an assumed name:
The key to the scheme is to find someone willing to sell their identification to someone willing to create a passport application. For Dave that was left to a scout named Joanne, who was asked to find people of a certain age and sex and ask if they would sell their ID for money. For each set of ID that Joanne turned over, she received $200.
The ID seller
A man named Marc sold his ID for $500, giving Dave a copy of his driver’s licence, his original birth certificate which was never returned, and his health card, which was returned. When the registered package arrived from Passport Canada, he went with Dave to the post office and handed over the package, and received the rest of his money. Others received $800 for their ID, and one man received 14 rocks of crack cocaine.
A woman named Renee was courted by Dave, saying if she ever needed money, she should come to him. She was given $300 at first, and when she signed her first passport application, and swore to the likeness of the person in the photograph, she was given $100. On subsequent occasions she was given between $60 and $70. Another guarantor said Dave offered $50 to $200 to sign passport applications.