Alleged police fraud jeopardizes entry of British tourists at Lanzarote Airport

  • Canarian Weekly
  • 14-09-2023
  • Lanzarote
  • Photo Credit: Canarias Ahora
Alleged police fraud jeopardizes entry of British tourists at Lanzarote Airport

The Spanish judiciary is investigating a potential fraud within the National Police during the evaluation of Lanzarote Airport as a Schengen border. The Court of Instruction No. 2 in Arrecife has initiated proceedings based on a complaint alleging that the police inflated the number of operational personnel at César Manrique Airport solely to pass the European Commission's assessment.

According to the complaint, which Canarias Ahora newspaper has obtained access to, a "premeditated plan" was executed with the sole purpose of making it appear "that the deficiencies" for which the airport failed as a Schengen border in 2022 had been resolved. This alleged fraud could endanger the direct entry of the island's major foreign tourists: the British.

On 11th July 2023, European assessors visited Lanzarote Airport to examine its compliance with the Schengen Borders Code. This decalogue establishes the rules to be applied to individuals crossing the external borders of this space, which includes 27 European countries.

A year earlier, this airport had failed the evaluation. In November, the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union sent Spain a series of recommendations to address the identified deficiencies. In Lanzarote's case, the document ordered an urgent increase in personnel responsible for carrying out border inspections at the airport.

The EU also insisted on conducting systematic border inspections of departing passengers and adapting the airport's infrastructure to ensure physical separation between the flow of passengers on domestic flights and those on other flights in the departure area.

The complaint filed on August 2nd claims that these measures were "never implemented." It goes on to say that "not only are they not being met, but it appears that the Arrecife Police Commissioner's Office organized a plan of deceit or fraud against the evaluators in such a way that it would be very difficult for them to detect that the airport does not comply with the Schengen Acquis to become a European border."

Sources close to the National Police indicate that there are about six or seven agents on duty at the airport in shifts. However, according to reports from other commissioners, there should be at least 25 officials per shift to conduct thorough checks on foreigners from non-EU countries.

Canarias Ahora says that they have attempted to obtain statements from the National Police and the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry of the Interior referred inquiries to the National Police's Communication Office. The law enforcement agency responded that they could not comment on the matter as it is a "legal issue."

Furthermore, the National Police officer who filed the complaint was reassigned from his regular position. After 15 years of working at the border control, he was relocated two weeks after filing the complaint. His new responsibilities involve the transfer and custody of detainees at the Arrecife Courts.

The European Union contemplates the possible consequences of failing to fulfil Schengen border duties. The Schengen Borders Code states that "in case of serious deficiencies" in border control in an evaluation report, the European Commission can take various actions.

On one hand, it can recommend that the Member State take specific measures such as deploying European Border Guard teams or presenting strategic plans. As a last resort, and depending on the seriousness of the situation, it can also order the closure of a border post. This is outlined in Article 29 of Regulation 2016/399 of the European Parliament and the Council.

The closure of César Manrique Airport as a border post could have significant consequences for the island. British passengers would not be able to travel directly to Lanzarote; instead, they would have to make a prior stopover at another airport.

Most tourists visiting Lanzarote are British. From January to July of this year alone, 131,972 visitors from the UK travelled to the island. Figures from the island's Data Centre reflect a 9% increase in arrivals compared to the previous year.

Alleged police fraud jeopardizes entry of British tourists at Lanzarote Airport

This "plan of deceit," according to the complaint, was orchestrated by the National Police Commissioner's Office in Arrecife. A few days before the evaluation, it added ten officials requested from the Brigade for Response to Clandestine Immigration (BRIC) and seven more police officers from the Commissioner's Office to the seven regular workers at the airport. "After the evaluation, these officials were removed, and instructions were given not to stamp passports, meaning that border control was not carried out in accordance with European regulations."

In the days leading up to the evaluation, the officials allegedly received a presentation report that would be given to the evaluators. The goal was for them to adjust their statements to that document in case of questioning. "This report included the 17 officials from the BRIC as permanent staff added for the evaluation, which is completely false."