A FORGED Irish passport is at the centre of a €100m gold scam in West Africa being investigated by the FBI and Interpol.
The passport -- in the name of a John Recketts -- was used in an elaborate ruse to dupe US investors out of millions of dollars in a fraud which ran for almost 12 months, the Irish Independent has learnt.
The scam is believed to have been masterminded in Lagos, Nigeria, by a Nigerian gang, but the passport was forged from data obtained in Dublin.
The number on the passport was the same as that of a valid travel document of an elderly woman resident in Dublin, but all other details were professionally forged.
The elderly woman is understood to have been unaware of the fact her passport details had been stolen.
The scam revolved around US investors being able to purchase unprocessed gold directly from a mine in west Africa.
The gold was in mined form but the investors were told they could purchase it without any fees, charges or taxes being applied to it.
The sum involved was more than €10m, but the investors stood to make up to €100m if the gold was successfully transported to Europe or the Middle East and processed.
The US investors, all industrialists, had invested €3m in setting up the export and security operation. But the scam was discovered when an Irish security team was hired to escort the gold out of Africa last autumn on their behalf.
The security team became suspicious when it was unable to make direct contact with the shipment organiser -- John Recketts -- despite spending more than three months in West Africa.
When the group reported their suspicions to the US investors, the businessmen immediately withdrew and abandoned the Irish team in West Africa.
Members of the security team -- one of whom confirmed the details to the Irish Independent -- only arrived back in Ireland last month having had to fund their own trip home.
"We were cut loose -- the minute they (the investors) realised what was going on they walked away. We had to pay all our own expenses and even our flights home," he said.
The Irish team, which has done extensive contract security work in Europe and the Middle East, had been in West Africa from August to early December.
The US investors have now complained to the FBI about the fraud. No John Recketts exists -- and corporate addresses supplied to the investors for firms in Benin, London, Burkina Faso and Togo are also fake.
Last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs said: "We don't publicly comment on individual investigations of fraud or related matters."
However, it is understood the Government has not yet been formally contacted by either the FBI or Interpol.
It is not the first time forged Irish passports have been used as part of international criminal activity.
Last year, a Russian diplomat was expelled from Dublin after a garda investigation found its intelligence service was behind the forgery of six Irish passports.
The details from six genuine Irish passports were used on fake documents supplied to a Russian spy ring based in the United States.
The agents had worked undercover in the US for a decade before being caught in an FBI operation involving intercepted phone calls in June 2010.
And in early 2010 an Israeli diplomat was expelled in retaliation for abuses of Irish passports by its agents.
It followed revelations that forged passports had been used by Israelis, who were alleged to have murdered Hamas activist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel in Dubai.
In both the Russian and Israeli cases, the passports were those produced before the introduction of new design and security standards in 2005.
The new biometric passport is regarded as one of the best in the world and includes a more secure personal details page.