Public officials among 20 arrested in massive police crackdown on ‘mafia of illegal immigration’

Various public officials – some high ranking – have been arrested today in a massive police crackdown on what is dubbed ‘a mafia of illegal immigration’.

Among those detained are lawyers and officials from SEF, the tax department and institute of social security.

News reports suggest this is a criminal network that has already legalised thousands of immigrants on false pretences.

Those found with suspect papers as a result of today’s crackdown are due to be deported, either imminently or eventually, while it is still unclear what bail terms will be handed to the various men and women who have been arrested.

According to reports, this is a network that was overseen by lawyers and which had “almost 500 operatives on the ground procuring clients”.

Says Diário de Notícias, “authorities believe the scheme has been running since 2015”.

The majority of “victims” exploited by central ‘gang-members’ haven’t even settled in Portugal – they have simply used the visas handed to them to gain entry to Schengen space.

Some television stations are talking about the human trafficking of people to work on agricultural explorations in miserable conditions with paltry pay, others of sex trafficking.

But also involved are to so-called ‘fake marriages’ (in which Portuguese ‘brides’ are procured to marry illegal immigrants).

Nationalities involved are principally Brazilians, Africans, Pakistanis, Indians, Nepalese and Bangladeshis.

Explain reports, 240 PJ police agents have been conducting house searches and making arrests since early this morning.

The operation has been centred for the time being on the area of Greater Lisbon.

Likely charges to come include the crimes of aiding illegal immigration, falsification of documents, active and passive corruption, IT fraud, unauthorised access, money laundering and criminal association.

Some of the people arrested today have already got form for similar schemes, adds DN, claiming one of the lawyers suspected of leading the network received a criminal conviction in 2013, while a female SEF inspector arrested today is already under suspicion in another case and cited in a criminal investigation.

The woman has now been suspended from her duties at SEF’s office in Alverca.

Stress reports, authorities see this network as “very professional” and of having taken advantage of the vulnerability of immigrants “without scruples”.

“Investigators registered the impunity felt by suspects, overhead in recorded conversations commenting that they would never get caught”.

Other news sources go into the ‘details’ of the operation: how much money passed hands in order to facilitate ‘easy passage’ for immigrants who were being massively exploited.

Says TVI, the 20 (or possibly more by tomorrow) arrested will be presented before a judge tomorrow (Wednesday). The majority (many of them foreigners) risk being held in jail as they could otherwise abscond or “continue with their criminal activity, bearing in mind this is a scheme that has been active for a number of years”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com