herald

Sunday 11 December 2016

Gangs reap €15m from a thousand sham marriages

Approximately 1,000 sham marriages take place every year
Approximately 1,000 sham marriages take place every year

Asian gangs who have organised sham marriages in Ireland have been paid over €15m by their desperate clients, the Herald can reveal.

Gardai estimate that there have been approximately 1,000 sham weddings in Ireland over two years, with the organised gangs involved in these events receiving around €15,000 from each "client".

"This is a conservative estimate, some of these 'grooms' are paying the gangs up to €20,000 to organise their illegal wedding," a source said.

A sham marriage enables the 'groom' to have EU Treaty rights, which means he can reside and work in Europe while his new bride leaves within hours of the marriage.

The revelation comes after over 200 gardai were yesterday involved in a nationwide crackdown on sham marriages and illegal immigration, which they codenamed Operation Vantage.

Among the 11 people arrested was an Afghan national in Mayo, held for being in breach of the Sex Offender's Act after he failed to register with gardai when he arrived here this year after being jailed in England for sexually assaulting a woman in a taxi.

Operation Vantage, which was set up in August, has uncovered the massive profits and the modus operandi of Pakistani and other gangs from the Indian sub-continent who are involved in the illegal sham marriage trade.

Last night, a senior source revealed that, on average, a man from this region who approaches the gang with the purpose of marrying an EU national to exploit the asylum and immigration system here "has to pay at least €15,000 for the wedding to be facilitated".

Registry

The mob then use their contacts in Europe to organise a "bride" to come to Ireland to marry the asylum seeker in a registry office here, with the woman being generally paid around €3,000 and spending on average just three days in the country.

Investigations have revealed that in recent months, the most common nationality of the fake "brides" is Portuguese. However, in previous years, the women involved mostly came from Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary.

"The women get their €3,000 from the gang and they are out of the country within a matter of hours. Their flights are paid for and accommodation and other expenses surrounding the fake wedding are looked after by the gang," a source said.

"When all expenses are accounted for, it is estimated the criminals are making around €10,000 profit from each fake wedding," a source said.

Last night, 11 suspects were being held in garda stations in Dublin, Limerick and Co Mayo after 42 searches took place across the country.

Documents

At least two of those arrested are described as "key facilitators", and gardai yesterday seized at least three false Dutch travel documents.

"A large amount of computers, memory devices, phones and documents - including false identity documents, driving licences and marriage certificates - have been seized. A stun gun and around €30,000 in cash have also been seized during the course of the searches," a garda spokesman said.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald commended Operation Vantage and said that recent legislation gave marriage registrars extensive new powers to prevent marriages abuses.

"As a result of this legislation, 55 formal objections to pending marriages have been made by the gardaí through Operation Vantage," she said.

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