‘Gang behind Hajj passport scam may be in DFA’
The Authorities are investigating 17 Filipinos who accompanied around 500 Indonesians posing as Filipino Hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia last month.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the 17 were in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation and were being questioned on the extent of their involvement in the Hajj passport scam.
“Their testimonies will be crucial in pinning down the masterminds of the passport fraud and to determine the criminal liabilities of all those involved,” a report said.
BI intelligence chief Charles Calima said the syndicate suspected to be involved in that scam could be operating inside the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
The government has formed Task Force Janus, an interagency group includes the BI, NBI and intelligence units from the military and the police, to get to the bottom of the scam.
The Filipino facilitators were taken into custody when they returned to the country following the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, from Sept. 9 to 14.
Authorities believe around 500 Indonesians faked their identifies to be able to use Filipino Hajj passports and join the religious pilgrimage.
A Hajj passport is based on country quotas set by the Saudi government to regulate the huge number of Muslims from all over the world wanting to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Indonesia’s quota for this year was reportedly already filled while the Philippine quota still had slots available.
Unlike a regular passport, a Hajj passport is valid for one year and can be only used to participate in the pilgrimage.
In August, the Bureau of Immigration thwarted an attempt by 177 Indonesians to fly to Saudi Arabia using Filipino Hajj passports. Immigration agents became suspicious when they realized that the pilgrims could not speak a word of Filipino or any Philippine dialect.
BI technical assistant for airport operations Leo Cresente Ferrer said the task force was able to identify and take into custody another 103 Indonesians and 18 Malaysians who also illegally obtained Hajj passports from the Philippines.
“Most of the Philippine passports were released by the DFA and some by the Philippine consulate in Malaysia,” the report said.
“The capability of unscrupulous government personnel within the DFA and NCMF and their cohorts to produce Philippine passports through fraudulent means has national security implications,” the BI report said.
In fact, one of the five Filipino passport holders who died during this year’s Hajj was actually an Indonesian.
The Indonesian pilgrim, who went by the assumed Filipino name Murphy Rasam Sahiril, was identified as Samsuddin, 68.
According to the report, Indonesians resort to using illegally acquired Philippine Hajj passports since one would have to wait 20 years to get a slot in the regular Indonesian quota for pilgrims.
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