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Nine arrested in Olympics visa scam in Pakistan

July 24, 2012 18:02 IST

Nine people, including five women, were arrested on Tuesday by Pakistani authorities for their alleged involvement in a visa scam that could have allowed terrorists to sneak into Britain along with the country's Olympic team.

Among those arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency were Lahore-based officials of the passport office and the National Database and Registration Authority and employees of a private travel agency.

At least five women were among those arrested. The arrested persons allegedly helped an undercover reporter of the British tabloid The Sun acquire a Computerised National Identity Card and a Pakistani passport.

After the tabloid exposed the scam yesterday, the interior ministry took action and suspended 12 officials of the passport office and NADRA in Lahore.

The ministry also constituted a special team of FIA and NADRA officials, which arrested the nine persons.

"We have taken into custody some employees of the NADRA office in Bhagwanpura and the passport office in Garden Town, including Deputy Director Iqbal Shahid and Assistant Director Mubashir Tirmizi, for issuing a passport in a false name," an interior ministry official told PTI on condition of anonymity.

The investigation team has recorded the statements of some other employees, the official said.

The team is expected to submit its report to interior ministry chief Rehman Malik on Thursday, he added. Cases had been registered against a total of 18 people for their alleged involvement in the scandal, state-run Radio Pakistan reported.

Sources said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz worker Abid Chodhary, who works for the Dream Land travel agency, helped The Sun's reporter in obtaining a passport.

Chodhary has gone into hiding to evade arrest, they said. Authorities had already included his name in the Exit Control List, a document that lists people barred from travelling out of Pakistan.

The Sun reported its journalist had infiltrated a criminal ring that offered false passports, visas and access to the 2012 London Olympics as 'bogus support staff' of the Pakistani team.

The ring provided its undercover reporter a genuine Pakistani passport in a false name, the tabloid reported.

The scam centred round Lahore-based Dream Land travel agency and Chodhary, who claimed he could get a two-month visa and smuggle a person into the games as part of Pakistan's Olympic squad for 7,000 pounds.

In a related development, a spokesman for the Pakistan Olympics Association said it would not be possible for any 'unwanted person to travel to London on fake documents as an official member of the Pakistan contingent' because all 39 members of the Pakistani Olympic squad are 'bona fide persons duly accredited by the London Olympics Organising Committee'.

M Zulqernain in Lahore