In recent years the UK Border Agency has clamped down on sham marriages, introducing family permits and encouraging registrars to highlight suspicious cases. Under the tougher rules, anyone trying to cheat the system can be imprisoned for up to 7 years. It is a criminal offence to be in the UK through deception, and we will fully investigate any allegations that are passed to us.
The bogus bride and groom and their party were apprehended attempting a crude immigration scam involving hastily purchased wedding rings worth £33, an interpreter to help them profess their love for one another, and around £2,000 in cash.
A wedding party arrested in Sheffield city centre last September as part of a nationwide crackdown have been jailed.
All 5 were sentenced for immigration offences at Sheffield Crown Court on 18 March:
* the bride – Renata Toracova, 37, from Slovakia – was sentenced to 8 months;
* the groom – Sajid Ali, 31, from Pakistan (in the UK on a student visa) – was sentenced to 12 months;
* Ali’s interpreter – Mahtab Khan, 37, from Pakistan (with permission to stay in UK) – was sentenced to 46 weeks;
* Toracova’s interpreter – Ladislav Mizigar, 40, of Slovakia – was sentenced to 9 months; and
* Slovak interpreter – Michal Gazi, 22, from Slovakia – was sentenced to 9 months.
A sham marriage typically occurs when a non-European national marries a European citizen as means of trying to gain long-term residency and the right to work and claim benefits.
All 5 were arrested just moments before their wedding at Sheffield town hall on the morning of 10 September 2010, following an intelligence-led operation by a UK Border Agency specialist immigration crime team.
Officers recovered 2 wedding bands still in an Argos shopping bag and a torn-out page from the catalogue featuring the rings. They also found a receipt which led them to CCTV footage of the party buying the rings in Meadowhall Shopping Centre hours before they were due to marry.
Officers recovered £1,400 from Khan – the same amount that the bride later claimed she was owed for her part in the scam, having already been paid £500 upfront. Khan later claimed he withdrew the £1,400 from a bank minutes before the ceremony for ‘gifts and clothes’.
Neither bride nor groom could communicate with one another, and they later admitted that they could not speak each other’s languages.
During questioning, Toracova admitted that she was already married in Slovakia and that her witness, Mizigar, was actually her lover here in the UK. She added that she had only entered into the scam because she had debts of £500. Ali explained that he was a student at a London college, but had only attended for 1 month before moving to Sheffield; he was looking for a way to stay in the UK as he was no longer studying. Both Toracova and Ali pleaded guilty.
Mizigar admitted to having known Ali for just 20 minutes, only meeting him the day he was picked up for the ceremony.
Evidence recovered from Khan and Ali’s mobile phones showed text messages containing the bride and groom’s names, dates of birth and passport numbers. Gazi, a ‘wedding guest’, was found to live at the same address as Toracova and her boyfriend Mizigar.
All 5 pleaded guilty to 1 count of conspiring to breach immigration law.
Jeremy Oppenheim, regional director for the UK Border Agency in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, said:
‘Once again, cases like these demonstrate quite clearly that the UK Border Agency is able to identify and investigate those involved in immigration crime and bring them to justice.
‘This case is part of a wider investigation led by the UK Border Agency’s Yorkshire immigration crime team, code-named Operation Relinquish, that saw a total of 27 arrests last summer involving individuals believed to be involved in sham marriage scams in South Yorkshire alone.
‘Those attempting to break our immigration rules by obtaining a British passport fraudulently face a prison sentence, deportation and potentially being barred from re-entering the UK. ‘
DCI Dave Powell, Head of our immigration crime teams in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, said:
‘These prosecutions are a testament to the hard work and determination displayed by the UK Border Agency’s immigration crime team into unscrupulous individuals who would seek to flout immigration laws.
‘Our specialist team works closely with registrars and local police forces to ensure people are not able to benefit from breaking the UK’s immigration laws.
‘Let today’s sentences sends a strong message to those who think they can flout immigration laws – we will take action against anyone found to have entered into a sham marriage.’