Money Laundering: Global Fraudsters Use Sea Fortress as Passport to Riches
Boggan, Steve, The Independent (London, England)
Fake passports from a self-proclaimed "principality" off the English coast are being used by criminals in multi-million pound money-laundering and drug-smuggling operations.
In the latest case to surface, law officers in Slovenia found that forged diplomatic papers from the Principality of Sealand were used to open bank accounts through which the proceeds of illegal pyramid investment schemes in eastern Europe were channelled.
Bank and customs officials around the world have been fooled into accepting Sealand passports as valid - even though the principality is nothing more than a Second World War naval fortress, seven miles off the coast of Felixstowe. The principality was founded 30 years ago by Roy Bates, 75, a wealthy businessman who lives on the concrete platform with his wife Joan. He declared independence in 1966 and produces his own passports, stamps and coins but he has no dealings with the criminals and is furious they are forging his papers. During the past year, evidence has emerged that fake Sealand passports have been used by crooks all over the world. Passports seized in the Slovenian caper had entry and exit stamps from at least 10 countries, including Bulgaria, Romania, Iraq, Iran and Libya. Police are examining evidence that 4,000 forged Sealand passports were sold at around pounds 1,000 a time to Hong Kong citizens before the handover to China in July. The Independent has been told that drug smugglers have also been apprehended carrying the fake papers. Mr Bates was enraged to learn that Torsten Reineck, the German on whose houseboat Andrew Cunanan committed suicide after the murder of Gianni Versace, carries a Principality of Sealand passport. It is understood he drives around Los Angeles in a car with Sealand "diplomatic plates". Mr Bates, who uses the title of Prince, says international lawyers believe his declaration of independence is valid because, when he made it, the fort stood outside British territorial waters. Britain later extended its waters to include Sealand and does not recognise it as a principality. Whether or not his passports are valid, the Prince of Sealand said yesterday that those being used by criminals were not issued by him. "Every country in the world has problems like this," he told The Independent. "The world is awash with fake passports. I'm just angry they're faking mine and using them for illegal purposes." Interpol was alerted to the latest scam by the Slovenian authorities last year, after two Austrians opened a bank account in false names using a Principality of Sealand diplomatic passport. …