District prosecutors in Taichung, a city in central Taiwan, have charged 10 Taiwanese with violating the island country’s passport regulations by selling their documents to criminal groups based in China, according to a Sept. 4 report by Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA).
British authorities alerted Taiwan’s Ministry of Interior after nabbing several mainland Chinese trying to enter England with Taiwanese passports.
Between 2015 and 2016, all 10 of the suspects all went to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to apply for a passport, then sold them to the criminal group, which specializes in modifying the documents. Each received NT$5,000 to NT$6,000 (about US$162 to US$194), according to the report.
Two of the suspects, identified only by their surnames Tu and Lai, returned to apply for a replacement passport in December 2015, after they claimed to district police in Taichung that they had lost theirs. Tu got his second passport, and sold that in July 2016. He then filed for another passport after reporting it again as lost to the police.
A Taiwanese passport offers greater freedom of movement than mainland Chinese passports, which is why criminals in China seek to capitalize on the demand. According to the 2018 Henley & Partners Passport Index, which ranks passports of countries around the world based on the level of visa-free travel and freedom of movement, Taiwan placed 26th, while China landed at 69th.
Japan’s passport was ranked No. 1 while the U.S. passport was fourth, tied with Austria.
In January 2012, 12 Taiwanese were apprehended by local authorities for running a human-smuggling ring that sold more than 100 Taiwanese passports to criminal groups in China, according to Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency.
That case was cracked after Taiwanese authorities were informed by officials from other countries that mainland Chinese travelers were using Taiwanese passports to illegally enter or have a flight stopover in Ireland, France, Turkey, Australia, and Spain.