Working with Canadian and Australian officials, Taiwanese authorities say they have dismantled "the largest human smuggling operation between Asia, Australia and North America."
The ring managed to smuggle more than 100 illegal migrants from China to Canada and Australia on at least 50 occasions, Taiwan's National Immigration Agency said in a communiqué released on Wednesday.
Each of those 50 successful smuggling trips involved one to four migrants from the People's Republic of China, who flew to Australia or Canada from Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport using doctored Taiwanese passports, the NIA said.
Since November, 2010, holders of Taiwanese passports no longer need a visa to visit Canada. One factor Immigration Canada cited in 2010 for waiving the visa requirement was the "very low number of asylum claims from Taiwan nationals."
The ring of snakeheads, as human smugglers are known in China, made $3.4-million in profit, the press release said.
The document said Taiwanese investigators first worked jointly with Australian officials in Taipei from January to April of 2011 and stopped six trafficking cases and identified 32 suspects in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.
Then, between May and September, they co-operated with officials from the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, which represents Canadian interests in Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations. The Taiwanese-Canadian operation stopped two smuggling attempts involving another 14 suspects in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The NIA communiqué was available only in Chinese and was not posted on the agency's English-language website.
It said the ring mostly smuggled migrants from Fujian province in southern China.
The smuggling relied on the same approach that snakeheads have used at Hong Kong International Airport: Chinese migrants would get into the restricted area of the airport under one identity, then switch passport, ticket and flight boarding pass, pretending to hail from a country that is less likely to raise the suspicions of airline staff.
The NIA statement said the ring was headed by a man in his 50s whose name the Taipei Times transcribed into Latin characters as Feng Sheng-hsiung.
The statement dubbed him "the Godfather of snakeheads" and said he was behind the smuggling of more than 100 migrants to Canada and the U.S. in 2005.
Mr. Feng had been behind bars and was released on parole in October, 2010, because he had cancer, but "remained unrepentant" and got involved again in the human-smuggling business, working with another snakehead named Wang Cheng-wei, the NIA said.
"His behavior recalls the Chinese proverb: `While birds will die for food, human beings will die for money'," the NIA communiqué said.
The communiqué said Mr. Feng had been using fake passports and boarding passes before and was "the founding father of that modus operandi."
Past tribunal decisions in Canada show that Chinese migrants have flown to Canada posing as travellers from Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia or Japan.
According to Immigration Canada, in the past four years, 117 Chinese visitors claimed refugee status after landing at Vancouver International Airport, while another 228 did the same at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
The Canada Border Service Agency says that in the same period, another 1,452 Chinese citizens were denied entry at border points and left voluntarily.
At a press conference, Taiwanese officials showed doctored passports and bogus boarding passes and airport surveillance-camera footage of suspects, including of Mr. Feng.