Three Bradford women, including two mothers, who posed as bogus brides during a massive international sham marriage operation stretching from Yorkshire to Pakistan were jailed yesterday.
They were among a gang of 18 men and women involved in the scam who were jailed for a total of nearly 28 years at Sheffield Crown Court.
The defendants included mother-of-two Louise Samantha Kelly, 27, of Broadstone Way, Home Wood, her partner Mohammed Yassar, 22, of the same address, Sabiha Bano Khan, 46, of Heath Terrace, Bradford Moor, and mother-of-two Farah Khan, 43, of Sewell Road, Laisterdyke, were imprisoned for eight months each for admitting assisting in unlawful immigration.
The court had heard Kelly flew to Pakistan with Yassar to take part in a sham marriage in December 2010.
Mastermind,Talib Hussain, 42, flew Eastern European women to Islamabad for bogus weddings with Pakistani men, who could then apply to live in the UK under European open borders laws, the court had heard. He was jailed for six years.
Helped by his former wife Rahina Zaman, who was jailed for two and a half years, he orchestrated the “very large, well organised, professional operation” from his suburban semi-detached house in Rotherham.
More than 60 applications for UK visas were submitted to authorities, accompanied by fake documents and photos of the bogus weddings.
But UK Border Agency officials became suspicious when they noticed the same people appeared in many of the photos – and the same clothes were being swapped between brides, grooms and guests to make the pictures look genuine.
After the case, the agency said the bogus weddings took place over a two-year period.
Many ceremonies took place without the bride and groom even sharing a common language.
Investigations began when agency officers in the British High Commission in Islamabad noticed a large number of suspect visa applications from Pakistani nationals wanting to join their spouse or fiancee in the UK.
The agency’s Operation Razorback resulted in arrests in Rotherham and Manchester in February 2011.
These were followed by further arrests in Bradford, Bristol, Gosport, London and Sheffield.
A spokesman said two further Pakistani men have accepted cautions for their involvement in the ring and warrants had been issued for the arrest of two more people who failed to attend their trials.
The maximum possible sentence for the offences for which all 18 defendants were jailed was 14 years, the court heard.
After the case Immigration Minister Mark Harper said: “This investigation shows that the UKBA is taking strong action to crack down on sham marriages, whether they take place in this country or overseas.
“Immigration crime is not victimless. It preys on some of society’s most vulnerable people and defrauds the taxpayer.
“The sentences handed out today send a clear message to anyone tempted to break immigration rules. We have the resources, expertise and technology to catch you, and you will pay with your liberty.”
Prosecutors told the judge that by marrying women from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Britain, the Asian men would have been eligible to move to Europe, and wanted to live in the UK.
But the court heard none of the applications by Pakistani nationals to enter or remain in the UK were successful.
- Those convicted by a jury were: Nikola Horvathova, 26, jailed for a year; Eva Holubova, 19, ten months; Kristina Popikova, 34, one year; Peter Pohlodko, 19, 21 months; Mohammed Ramzan, 59, three years; Aftab Hussain, 36, two years.
- Those who pleaded guilty were: Veronika Pohlodkova, 37, four years, and Zuzana Holubova, 26, seven months.
- Those guilty of a substantive offence by plea were: Michaela Lengyelova, 31, 11 months; Svetlana Krausova, 31, eight months, Khalda Ahmed, 45, seven months suspended for a year plus 150 hours, unpaid work; and Nadia Qureshi, 28, six months.