/ Woman sentenced after up to £8m worth of stolen visas recovered

A woman who was caught with up to £8m worth of stolen visas has been sentenced.

Shagufta Mahmood (born 28/12/1990), of Rosewood Crescent, Chadderton, pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods at Manchester Crown Court.

She was found with 877 stolen visas worth up to £10,000 each on the black market.

On 11 February 2013 she was sentenced to seven months imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Mahmood was caught red-handed with 877 visas stolen during a robbery in 2008 in which 3,600 blank passports and 4,500 visa were stolen from a courier van which had been parked outside a newsagent in Chadderton.

The visas and passports were on their way to RAF Northolt where they would have been sent to British Embassies worldwide.

In October 2009, five men were jailed for the parts they played in the theft of the passports and visas.

Following the initial theft of the documents, an investigation was launched by Greater Manchester's Police Serious Crime Division, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) assisted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

This operation resulted in the recovery of nearly 1,500 visas and more than 2,000 passports in January 2009, but the investigation to location the remaining passports and visa remained ongoing.

Acting on intelligence, police executed a warrant at Mahmood's home on 14 June 2012. Mahmood was an associate of those convicted in October 2009, and had previously been in a relationship with one of the offender's sons.

Entry was forced, and after searching the property officers found a black plastic bin liner in the loft, within which was stashed four further plastic bags containing 877 of the stolen visas.

It is difficult to put an accurate estimate on the value of the stolen visas, as it depends on what criminals are prepared to pay for them. Mahmood was charged with handling £1m worth of stolen goods, however intelligence suggets that at the top end of the black market, it is believed criminals could pay up to £10,000 each for one of these stolen visas, making the total recovery worth a possible £8.7m.

Mahmood was not present at the time of the search but was later traced and arrested.

Detective Inspector Chris Mossop, from GMP's Serious Crime Division, said: "The theft of these documents by an organised crime group was an extremely serious offence.

"The ramifications of blank passports and visas falling into the hands of offenders both in the UK and then abroad, who could seek to those them to commit serious criminality and potentially terrorism, are huge.

"Therefore, with every document we recover we are substantially reducing that risk and that is a fantastic result not just for people in Manchester but across the UK and even further afield.

"Mahmood was clearly caught up in a far bigger conspiracy but by storing these documents in her loft she played a role in supplanting the dangerous circumstances I have already outlined.

"I want to reassure everyone that a team of investigators from many agencies are working together to recover the outstanding documents. Everyone involved in this operation has worked incredibly hard and today is another success story, although it is not the end as there are still documents we need to find and the investigation is ongoing."

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