Lithuanian woman 'given £2,000 moments before sham marriage'

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The Independent Online

A Lithuanian woman had her wedding dress bought for her the day before she married an African man she barely knew as part of an alleged sham marriage racket, a court heard today.

Elvyra Ziogeviciene said she was handed £2,000 in cash in a car outside the church by her husband-to-be, Peter Ojo, moments before she married him.

Only a handful of people she hardly knew were present and afterwards she returned to her home with a friend rather than with her new husband, she told Lewes Crown Court.

Jurors heard how shortly after the wedding Mr Ojo turned up at her home with an associate to collect her dress which they bought 24 hours earlier, "probably to take it back" to Debenhams.

She said she had accompanied Mr Ojo and his associate to the store in Hastings, East Sussex, but walked behind them as she felt "ashamed" at what she was taking part in.

Ms Ziogeviciene said the men chose the wedding dress for her, adding that she "wasn't bothered" that she had not had a say in what she would wear.

Asked whether there was any celebration afterwards to mark her nuptials on July 15, 2006, she replied through an interpreter: "You're joking. There was no celebration."

She said she bought a car with the £2,000 but denied claims she deliberately ensnared Mr Ojo after saying she wanted to marry "a rich African man".

The court heard she was introduced to him by a third party, a man named Kaido Maesalu, who brought up the idea that she might wed for cash after she arrived in the UK some 18 months earlier.

About three weeks after the suggestion was put to her, divorcee Ms Ziogeviciene agreed to the idea and Mr Ojo was brought to her room in King's Road, St Leonards-on-sea.

Speaking from behind a screen, she told jurors that she agreed to the plan after Kaido explained to her that she would be helping someone gain work legally and benefit herself.

It is alleged that the wedding was one of hundreds of sham marriages conducted at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards over a four-year period as part of a "massive and cynical scam" to help illegal immigrants gain residency in the UK.

The Reverend Alex Brown, 61, and co-defendants Michael Adelasoye, 50, and Vladymyr Buchak, 33, who is said to be Kaido's alias, are accused of preying on eastern Europeans desperate for cash and Africans willing to do anything to stay in the UK.

Between July 2005 and July 2009, Brown presided over a total of 383 marriages at the church, a 30-fold increase compared to the 13 he had conducted over the previous four years.

Brown, of Blomfield Road, Ukrainian national Buchak, of Anglesea Terrace, and solicitor and immigration specialist Adelasoye, of St Matthew's Drive, all in St Leonards, deny conspiring to facilitate the commission of breaches in immigration laws.

Ms Ziogeviciene said that some time after the wedding Kaido called her asking for her payslips and other documents, which she handed over.

She told the court that she had not seen Mr Ojo for "quite a while" and asked whether she ever lived or intended to live with him as man and wife, she replied: "No."

Ms Ziogeviciene said: "I thought I would help him as Kaido explained that I will benefit and I will help someone else and he would get a legal job."

She went on: "I didn't offer to marry. I got the money and I know it was wrong."

The case continues.