Seven jailed over sham marriages scam

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The Independent Online

Seven members of a gang who organised sham weddings for illegal immigrants were jailed today.

The Eastern European group's ringleader, Vladimir Murko, was sentenced to more than five years for his part in the scam.

The group of three men and four women staged 15 bogus marriages involving illegal Nigerian, Pakistani and Syrian immigrants from October 2006.

The immigrants handed over £1,500 each for the weddings, so they could obtain a National Insurance number and stay in Britain.

Murko, 37, of Bolton, Lancashire, ran up casino debts of £60,000 despite not having a legitimate source of income.

He was sentenced to 44 months for conspiring to assist illegal immigration, and 18 months for possessing a false identity document, to run consecutively.

Judge Martin Steiger, sitting at Manchester Crown Court, said: "Not only did this conspiracy pose a risk to immigration control, it potentially posed a threat to security as well.

"I do not accept that he (Murko) was a hapless marionette being manipulated by an unseen puppet master.

"If it was up to me to decide you would be deported to your home country and never allowed back."

Murko and his friends and relatives acted as brides or grooms or as witnesses to the proceedings, and many of the marriages, which took place across North-West England and in London, were bigamous.

Murko and his partner, Aneta Belova, 26, both of Stansfield Close, Tonge Fold; his brother Roman Murko, 32, and partner Nela Ginova, 23, both of Church Avenue, Daubhill, Bolton; and his friends Pavel More, 43, of Southfield Street, Burnden, Bolton, Petra Cinova, 26, of Galloway Street, Liverpool, and Monika Lakatosova, 30, of Charlesworth Avenue, Great Lever, Bolton, all pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to conspiring to assist illegal immigration.

The defendants - six Czechs and one Slovak - all had the right to live in the UK as European citizens.

Pavel More and Roman Murko were given a 26-month jail sentence for the conspiracy charge, with 15 months extra for Murko for bigamy, to run concurrently.

The four women were all jailed for 16 months for the conspiracy charge, with 12 months for bigamy, to run concurrently.

Churches in Manchester, Stockport, Liverpool and London, and a Bolton Register Office were all targeted in the scam.

All the institutions were deceived by the defendants who made false declarations they were free to marry and swore false affidavits on occasion.

Fake addresses and other false documents were provided to authenticate the "relationships".

The gang's activities were eventually discovered by the UK Border Agency in conjunction with the North West Immigration Crime Team and police raided a number of addresses in Bolton, Manchester and Liverpool in February.

Adrian Dugdale, from the Greater Manchester Crown Prosecution Service, said the group knew exactly what they were doing and that it was "unlawful."

He said: "We hope that these convictions will act as a warning to those unscrupulous enough to take advantage of people's desperation to remain in the UK."