Uruguay Uncovers Racket that Provided Russians With Fake Passports

An investigation by the country’s prosecutor’s office points to a gang that handled fake documents and which included the head of President Lacalle Pou’s security detail

The Uruguayan Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating a scheme with which Russian citizens gained access to Uruguayan identity documents that were then used to obtain passports
September 28, 2022 | 08:30 PM

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Montevideo — The Uruguayan Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating a scheme with which Russian citizens gained access to Uruguayan identity documents that were then used to obtain passports, and which involved Alejandro Astesiano, the head of President Luis Lacalle Pou’s security detail.

Astesiano, a former policeman who worked in the National Directorate of Civil Identification, was charged with the crime of creating false identities, association to commit a crime and influence peddling.

Another Uruguayan and a Russian citizen have also been charged in the case.

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Astesiano will be remanded in custody for 30 days.

The scheme

Those allegedly involved in the scheme managed a ‘document procurement’ activity to falsify identity records and obtain Uruguayan documents such as passports. The scheme consisted of obtaining birth certificates of deceased Uruguayans and linking them in an apocryphal manner with Russian citizens, to whom the gang not only offered the false documents but also indicated the procedures to follow in order to obtain Uruguayan identity.

After contacting the Russian “clients’, the gang adulterated original Russian birth certificates, registering them as children of a Uruguayan citizen with Russian nationality, and whose data they obtained from birth certificates that the gang obtained from official records, according to the investigation. They then arranged an appointment for the client at the National Civil Identification Office, told the alleged children of Uruguayans when they had to attend, and one of those involved or someone they trusted acted as a translator for the process.

To carry out the process, the gang accessed data from the Civil Identification Office.

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The roles of the accused

Astesiano allegedly operated with the gang since at least August 2021, used an office in government house Torre Ejecutiva to hold meetings related to his illicit activity, and also offered, as part of the scheme, contacts “with officials located in strategic positions”, according to a document from the Attorney General’s Office to which Bloomberg Línea had access.

According to El Observador newspaper, the gang also featured a Uruguayan citizen who managed the consignments and acted as a manager, while a Russian citizen procured the clients, agreed on the amounts to be paid and acted as a translator.

The investigation by prosecutor Graciela Fossati began two years ago, according to a document from the Prosecutor’s Office, and gained momentum in 2021 when information was received from the Association of Russian Compatriots in Mexico that several Russian citizens were using apocryphal Uruguayan documentation.

The trigger

The investigation took a turn on Tuesday September 21, according to El Observador, when a 46-year-old Russian citizen who had arrived in Uruguay a week earlier was arrested when he tried to obtain a birth certificate in Montevideo. The birth certificate contained irregularities which set off alarm bells for officials at the Civil Identification Office.

According to the document he was carrying, the Russian citizen claimed to be the grandson of a Uruguayan who died in 1991. The police managed to contact the deceased man’s children, who said they had no Russian siblings, according to El Observador. Police arrested the Russian citizen who was acting as a manager of the scheme and who had gone to the hotel where the other Russian citizen was staying. The alleged Russian manager has been living in Uruguay since 2008.

The Prosecutor’s Office issued a search warrant for the house of the Russian citizen, and police seized cell phones, computers and Russian birth certificates, among other objects.

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President Lacalle Pou's security detail was headed by Alejandro Astesiano (pictured to the right of the president's vehicle during his investiture on March 1, 2020.dfd

The presidential security team

President Lacalle Pou’s security chief was arrested on Sunday night at the presidential residence in Montevideo, and the president dismissed him from his post on Tuesday, after the accusation was confirmed.

In a press conference, Pou said the country’s judiciary must act “thoroughly” in the case.

The president said on Monday that he met Astesiano during the 1999 election campaign and then continued in contact because he worked as a security guard for leaders of the National Party. During Pou’s 2019 election campaign, Astesiano accompanied the now president as his personal security guard, before being appointed head of presidential security.

Astesiano has a criminal record for a previous prosecution in 2002, but for which he was not sentenced, criminal lawyer German Aller told radio program En Perspectiva. He also has more than 20 accusations of theft and fraud offenses.