Dozens of fake weddings were staged by a Yorkshire-based gang in a new immigration scam to allow Pakistani men to live in the UK.
More than 20 Czech or Slovak brides were flown to Pakistan to wed Asian men who paid for the service by a sham marriage operation which was based in Rotherham.
Fake weddings were staged with the “brides” posing with their “bridegrooms” for photographs in the pretence they had got married.
One bride went through three false ceremonies within four months and another had £1,000 in her handbag when she returned to the UK.
Yet another “bride” who went through a sham marriage was already married in the UK.
As overseas nationals, the Pakistanis would have been granted leave to live in this country as “husbands” of their spouses who as EU citizens have the right to live and work here.
The scam came to light when the British High Commission in Islamabad noticed a plethora of forged documents supporting marriage applications and immigration officers began investigating in South Yorkshire.
It emerged the fake weddings took place in different private homes throughout the Mirpur district in the south-west of the Kashmir region. Often the parties married within hours or just a few days of meeting one another.
Operation Razorback led to 18 men and women being convicted after trial or admitting conspiring to breach the UK’s immigration laws or assisting unlawful immigration between August 2009 and September 2010.
Prosecutor Sarah Wright told Sheffield Crown Court yesterday it was a sophisticated conspiracy. “This was a huge, well-organised and professional operation.”
She said the brides had no intention of living in “settled and genuine relationships” with the men and the sham marriages were clearly undertaken for immigration purposes.
A total of 62 fraudulent visa applications were traced to 32 addresses in the UK and the trail of false documents led to 27 Broom Grove, Rotherham, the semi-detached home of the main organisers, brothers Talib Hussain, 41, and Tariq Mehmood, 27, along with Talib’s ex-wife Rahina Zaman, 32. Mehmood is now on the run.
The address was described as the “engine room” of the conspiracy with Talib Hussain at its hub and where many of the forged documents originated.
The three brought the brides and bridegrooms together, booked the flights and arranged forged documents such as utility bills and bank statements – all for a small fee.
Hussain flew to Pakistan on numerous occasions with the fake brides and Mehmood booked the flights. Mohammed Ramzan, 59, Talib Hussain’s brother-in-law, lived across the street from their house and played a supporting role. More fake documents were found here.
Ms Wright said of Talib Hussain: “He was charging considerable sums to Pakistani nationals who wanted to come to live in the UK.” He was said to have a “considerable” property in Pakistan.
One of the brides, Czech national Eva Holubova, 19, flew to Pakistan with her 19-year-old boyfriend and was married three times in the space of four months.
Her “wedding” photos were remarkably similar to those of the other brides, wearing the same clothes against the same background.
She told police she was offered £250 for her photos by Pakistani men to pretend to be married so they could get visas to go to the UK.
Her boyfriend Peter Pohlodko, a Slovak, also got in on the act, “marrying” a Pakistani woman, 28, he claimed to have met on his wedding day and was paid £300.
Another support organiser Aftab Hussain, 36, flew to Pakistan with two of the brides. He said Talib Hussain paid £1,500 for their air tickets and one of the women “posed for something which was not a wedding but had the appearance of a wedding”.
Talib Hussain was said to be the “most culpable” of the gang but it was argued he did not make that much money out of it as his expenses in flights and paying the women were so high.
Many of the brides had modest means. Sabina Khan, 46, a single mother of three girls in the UK and a part-time lunchtime supervisor at a primary school was paid £300 for one sham marriage in Pakistan.
It is expected that all 18 members of the gang will be sentenced for their part in the conspiracy at Sheffield Crown Court today.