The Spanish police said on Thursday that they had dismantled two rings suspected of helping British nationals illegally obtain residence permits by providing them with forged documents at a cost of €1,600 per person.
Officers arrested 47 people when they moved against the two gangs operating in the southern resort of Marbella and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in North Africa, said a police statement.
They allegedly provided Britons with fake versions of the documents needed to qualify for residency, such as rental contracts, bank statements and bills, the statement added.
‘Both networks, which had no links between them, used the same modus operandi to regularise British nationals, obtaining a profit of around €1,600 per person,’ it said.
British citizens lost the automatic right to live and work in Spain when Britain’s exit from the European Union came into force in 2021.
But under the so-called Withdrawal Agreement, Britons who could prove they were living in Spain before the end of 2020 though documents such as rental contracts or bank statement could obtain residency.
Police said officials had so far identified 120 requests for residency under this agreement 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 Málaga on Spain’s Costa del Sol, home to a huge British community.
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 in a criminal organisation, aiding illegal immigration and document fraud.
There were around 290,000 Britons legally living in Spain in 2022, according to National Statistics Agency (INE), making them the fourth largest foreign community in the country. According to town hall censuses, however, the number could be as high as around 400,000.
In late 2021, the British Embassy in Madrid issued a warning against UK nationals submitting fraudulent residency applications.
A statement said: ‘The Spanish authorities have asked us to warn UK Nationals against submitting fraudulent residency applications, either directly or through a third party. They are particularly on the alert for forged healthcare insurance, padrón certificates and lease contracts, as well as people falsely claiming student status.’
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