An international manhunt is underway for the man behind one of Europe’s biggest ever illegal immigration rackets, which enabled more than 1,000 Chinese nationals to live and work in Portugal illegally. Police globally are searching for master of disguise and expert forger Chen Xiaomin, who ran the highly lucrative operation and who, according to reports, was last seen in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. According to court documents obtained by the Post , Chen – from economic powerhouse province Zhejiang ( 浙江 ) – ran for more than 10 years a well-organised operation centred on the northern Portuguese town of Matosinhos. The town is home to one of the southern European country’s biggest Chinese populations. Portuguese authorities believe the racket netted Chen at least five million euros (HK$44 million). At its heart were incredible criminal diligence, an expert ability to forge documents and the adoption of different personas to hoodwink and evade investigators. In the decade up to his initial arrest in Portugal, Chen adopted at least nine different identities, used an array of false or forged Chinese passports, created fake businesses, rented properties and invested in international funds. The Chinese man, his “alias”, his wife Zhi Li, and father Jinshi Chen managed at least 45 accounts in 11 different banks. Between 2001 and 2011, he made a fortune providing a wide range of illegal services helping Chinese people get residency permits, work, or run businesses in Portugal. Last month the Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Notícias reported Chen was convicted in absentia to 12 years in prison for 460 crimes of forgery, aiding illegal immigration, money laundering, counterfeiting official stamps and illegal gun possession. The man described by weekly magazine Sábado as “a central figure of illegal immigration this century”, is currently the target of both national and international alerts. Portuguese police first detained Chen in May 2011. But, despite being a skilled evader of justice, he was released on bail. By the time a judge ordered his detention in December 2013, he had vanished. Portugal has attracted an increasing number of Chinese immigrants over the past two decades. In 1999, just 3,062 Chinese citizens were resident legally in Portugal. By 2014 that number had risen to 21,402, according to the country’s Immigration and Borders Service. Most Chinese immigrants to Portugal since the late 90s are, like Chen, from Zhejiang. And representatives of the Chinese community say the Chinese population could be 40 to 50 per cent higher than thought, because of those living or working illegally in the country, according to a European University Institute study. “This group, motivated chiefly by economic opportunity, took advantage of the guanxi network within Europe,” according to a study by the European University Institute’s researchers Annette Bongardt and Miguel Santos Neves. It is unclear when Chen first arrived in Portugal, but official records say he got a Portuguese passport in 2001. Until then he is understood to have been working as a translator, while making a painstaking study of the intricacies of Portugal’s bureaucratic machine. He was then able to set up a number of complex and fraudulent schemes. The three most lucrative were: providing illegal immigrants with fake documents; assisting in renewing resident and work permits; and forging documents for dozens of real and fictitious companies. Chen, who was the figurehead of 156 companies – shops, restaurants, storehouses – could receive at once up to 6,000 euros depending on the number and complexity of the bureaucratic procedures his clients needed. Using different accounts, fake identities and fictitious companies, he charged a 250 euro commission for every 10,000 euros he transferred to China. “The defendant circumvented the national mechanisms for banking and fiscal regulation and transferred millions of euros abroad,” the court said. For instance, between November 2010 and May 2011, Chen transferred almost three million euros for 17 illegal immigrants. He received over 72,000 euros in commission. The transfers were made mostly to the Bank of China. When he was held on May 31, 2011, he had at his Matosinhos home documents for 178 bank accounts under 93 different names. Investigators also found professional printers used for making the fake papers, and stamps of both Portuguese and Chinese authorities. Also seized were 23 Chinese passports, one Portuguese identity card, a French residency permit, a Portuguese residency authorisation, six laptops, a typewriter, passport photos of 95 people, 35 mobile phones and a pistol. A Portuguese witness, said to have known Chen for ten years, told the court: “He made millions and millions of euros... the Chinese were afraid of him.” The same man, who made a business with Chen and knew his family, added: “He was a good-looking person and had a good relationship with his wife. He had dozens of employees, but it was all fictitious.” A spokeswoman for the Immigration and Borders Service in Portugal told the Post they started investigating the case in 2007, which led to the issuance of several search warrants and Chen’s detention in May 2011. The judicial process was concluded in 2013, she said, following “the analysis of hundreds of thousands of documents, technical reports on more than five hundred forged or falsified documents, examination of documents, hundreds of interviews with witnesses and financial analysis”. The same spokeswoman said Chen had family connections in other European countries, Asia and South America. One case among many: Songchan Du Songchan Du and her husband arrived in Portugal in 2001. At the time, they went to one of the many Chinese shops in the northern city of Porto, where they got the mobile number of a man who they were told would solve all their bureaucratic problems. His name was Chen Xiaomin. Songchan paid Chen 2,000 euros at first. He miraculously got all the documents she needed to take to the Immigration and Borders Service and apply for a work permit. Among them were a fake work contract, a fake social security number and fake declarations of earnings. Everything went according to plan. Songchan got a work permit, which was only given because the Portuguese government thought she was being employed. But, in fact, Songchan was the owner of a shop in Mealhada, in central Portugal. Chen was posing as the company’s figurehead for the purposes of the ruse. Over years, Chen forged tax declarations and money transfers, to sustain the lie that their work relationship was lawful. Songchan gave him 500 euros a year for the service. Later, Songchan was able to bring her son to Portugal, again using Chen’s services, paying him another 300 euros.