Thieves grab 3,000 blank French passports

11th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

GRASSE, France, Feb 10 (AFP) - A theft of 3,000 blank French passports on the Riviera on Tuesday has highlighted an "enormous" problem in Europe of criminal gangs or even terrorists using the documents to hide their activities, a French official said.

GRASSE, France, Feb 10 (AFP) - A theft of 3,000 blank French passports on the Riviera on Tuesday has highlighted an "enormous" problem in Europe of criminal gangs or even terrorists using the documents to hide their activities, a French official said.

The robbery, from a truck carrying the passports near the town of Grasse, came less than a week after a similar heist of another truck in Paris which was carrying 9,000 blank French passports.

And in October last year, French police managed to recover just 1,000 passports from a batch of 5,000 stolen three months earlier in Marseille.

Other European countries have also been hit.

Last week, a Finnish border official, Matti Lalaukka, revealed that around 60,000 Finnish passports have gone missing over the past few years, and many of them were thought to have been stolen.

A French police official who declined to be identified said the problem, Europe-wide, was "enormous" but that EU states were cooperating by putting the numbers of their stolen passports on a shared database.

"Unfortunately, it happens fairly regularly," the official told AFP, adding that "hundreds" of other passports were stolen recently in eastern France.

The French system of using unmarked trucks to transport passports and other official documents between government printing offices and regional administrations would probably have to be changed, he said.

"It is crucial that new measures be taken," he said.

"They could be small-time criminals, big drug dealers or even terrorists who get their hands on the passports," he said.

Other officials say the documents - which can be filled out with a new identity - can fetch up to EUR 1,500 (USD 1,900) on the black market and are especially prized by gangs specialising in people smuggling, prostitution and serious crime.

© AFP

                                                              Subject: France news

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