20/12/2013

Four Men Sentenced Over Sham Marriages

Four men have been given suspended prison sentences at Belfast Crown Court for involvement in sham marriages.

A PSNI investigation uncovered "systematic abuse" of the EU immigration system in which criminals provided false documentation for work permits. The gang also advertised a sham marriage service in Hong Kong and mainland China for illegal immigrants already living in the UK.

This included the provision of Portuguese or UK citizens for marriage to illegal immigrants for a fee of £18,000.

Detective Superintendent Andrea McMullan from Organised Crime Branch said: "In completing sham marriages, the criminals adopted a sophisticated plan. Essentially, an illegal immigrant would be provided with a 'bride' by a contact within the Portuguese community in Northern Ireland. A large number of these marriages involved men from the Bangladeshi/Pakistani community. These men had been convinced that the sham marriages would regularise their illegal status in the UK.

"To complete the sham marriages, the couples would attend registrar’s offices in Dundalk and Drogheda. They would then book a room at a hotel and a meeting would be arranged with Bishop Pat Buckley, who would, for a fee, agree to marry the participants. It was often only on the wedding day that a bride and groom would meet for the first time along with several other couples who were lined up to be married on the same day. The couples would often act as each other's witnesses in a 10-minute service overseen by Bishop Buckley. At the end of the 'ceremony' all of the parties would go their separate ways."

23 individuals have been convicted or pleaded guilty to a range of offences including immigration crime, sham marriages, money laundering and tax evasion.

Custodial sentences amounting to 42 years have been handed out.

A further 10 suspects have also been referred to Home Office immigration enforcement.

"During the course of the investigation, Organised Crime Branch officers tracked criminal money across three continents and restrained assets valued at £6m," Detective Superintendent Andrea McMullan said.

"In searches, cash totalling £150,000 and jewellery worth tens of thousands of pounds was seized."

(IT)

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