French visa fraud mastermind escaped from India: CBI

New Delhi, Mar 15 (PTI) A former employee of the French Embassy here who allegedly perpetrated a massive fraud by issuing visa to hundreds of people, including his parents, on the basis of fake documents without the knowledge and approval of sanctioning authority has escaped from India, officials said.

The CBI had booked Shubham Shokeen and another former employee Aarti Mandal in the case on the basis of a complaint from the French Embassy.

It was alleged that Shokeen issued visas on the basis of forged documents after accepting illegal gratification of Rs 50,000 per application without the knowledge and approval of the head of the visa department of the embassy from January 1, 2022 to May 6, 2022.

Shokeen dealt with 324 files relating to requests to issue visa during the period, the CBI has alleged.

The CBI was on the trail of Shokeen after registration of the case but it found that he had escaped the country before the FIR was lodged by the agency last December.

During the searches, the CBI seized the passports of Shokeen’s parents — no. U6107931 belonging to his father Samunder Singh and U1489667 belonging to his mother Anita Shokeen — on which ‘ETATS SCHENGEN’ visa stickers bearing numbers 601039921 and 601039919 respectively were pasted.

The Schengen visa allows a person to travel across 27 countries in Europe seamlessly.

The purported visa issued by French Embassy was valid for five years from January 3, 2022 to January 2, 2027 and authorised multiple entries and stay for 90 days in France, they said.

When enquired, the French Embassy in the national capital informed the CBI on February 10 that the visa stickers on Shokeen’s parents are genuine. Still, the signatures of Yohan Fanhan, an officer of the embassy upon the same appear to be forged.

The embassy also said that it is a strong likelihood that the parents of Shokeen did not appear for the personal interview for a visa and the stickers were taken out by him and pasted at home.

The CBI has alleged 64 files pertaining to individuals having a “high risk” of migration, like young farmers or unemployed persons from Punjab who had never travelled before and lacked the profile to hold a Schengen Visa have “disappeared” from the Embassy and remain untraceable.

The agency suspects that Mandal and Shokeen allegedly destroyed the documents and files from the visa department to leave no traces of this illicit activity, they said.

The CBI had conducted searches in Delhi, Patiala, Gurdaspur and Jammu, during which documents and electronic evidence like laptops, mobile phones and suspicious passports were recovered.

The CBI has alleged that three other accused booked in the FIR — Navjot Singh from Jammu and Kashmir and Chetan Sharma and Satwinder Singh Purewal, both from Punjab — had allegedly submitted fake and forged letters purportedly written by Maersk Fleet Management and Technology India Private Limited, Bengaluru to the Consulate General of France, Bengaluru, for issuing entry visas for their joining at Emma Maersk, Edith Maersk, and Munkebo Maersk, respectively at Port-Le-Havre, France.

“It was further alleged that in pursuance to the said criminal conspiracy, applicants from Punjab and Jammu submitted fake and forged letters purportedly written by a private company based at Bengaluru to the Consulate General of France, Bengaluru, for issuing entry visas for their joining private companies in Port-Le-Havre, France,” a CBI spokesperson had said in a statement.

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