Spanish police break up gangs providing false residency papers to Britons

Gangs provided Britons with fake versions of documents such as rental contracts, bank statements and bills

Morocco's Fnideq border crossing with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, in the background. AFP
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Two groups suspected of helping British citizens to illegally obtain residence permits have been broken, Spanish police said Thursday.

The gangs comprising 47 people were arrested after operating in the southern beach resort of Marbella and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in North Africa, police said.

Police say the gangs provided Britons with fake versions of the documents needed to qualify for residency, such as rental contracts, bank statements and bills, they said.

"Both networks, which had no links between them, used the same modus operandi to regularise British nationals, obtaining a profit of around €1,600 [$1,696] person," it said.

British citizens lost the automatic right to live and work in Spain when the UK's exit from the EU came into force in 2021.

But under the Withdrawal Agreement, those who could prove they were living in Spain before the end of 2020 with documents such as rental contracts could obtain residency more easily than those who moved after Brexit.

Police said officials had so far identified 120 requests for residency that had been backed by false documents supplied by the two rings.

At least three of the requests were from "criminals who aimed to hide" in the southern province of Malaga on Spain's Costa del Sol, home to a huge British community.

People cool off on a beach in Marbella, Spain July 9, 2021. Reuters

Police said they began their investigation in April 2021 after detecting a surge in residency applications from Britons in Malaga.

Among those arrested were three of the suspected heads of the gang that operated in Marbella, and two of the leaders of the ring from Ceuta.

The suspects face charges of membership of a criminal organisation, aiding illegal immigration and document fraud.

Britain's embassy in Madrid in late 2021 warned citizens against submitting fraudulent residency applications, saying Spanish authorities were "particularly on alert" for forged lease contracts and healthcare insurance.

There were about 290,000 Britons legally living in Spain at the start of 2022, according to the national statistics office, making them the fourth largest foreign community in the country.

Updated: February 23, 2023, 10:19 PM