A SHAM marriage gang who staged a bogus wedding at Sheffield Town Hall so a foreign groom could stay in Britain have been jailed for a total of five years.
Pakistani ‘groom’ Subhani Ahmed, aged 33, from Luton, wed Slovakian Barbora Vilckova, 35, from Bradford, in Sheffield on July 26 last year.
The couple relied on an interpreter to understand the registrar and exchange their marriage vows, and were unaware UK Border Agency officials were present at their ceremony.
Afterwards, Sheffield Crown Court heard, the newlyweds met up with Sajid Mehmood, 36, a Pakistani national living in Darnall, Sheffield, who was ringleader of the sham marriage gang.
His gang also helped Czech bride Marcela Kacmarcikova arrange a sham wedding which the Star revealed last year. Two of his crew - Vilckova’s real boyfriend Milan Benak, 39, and Gizar Demeter, 36, both Slovakians - helped ferry Ahmed and Vilckova away from the ceremony in a Ford Galaxy people carrier.
When officers arrested the group of five at a garage outside Meadowhall shopping centre, they found a costume jewellery wedding ring stuffed in a shoe, and a ‘price list’ for the marriage, totalling £10,695 and written in Urdu.
Among the items on the list were: “£4,500 girl, £1,900 P60, £600 wedding permission, £200 wedding hall expenses, £2,100 Home Office, £250 wedding photos outside garage.”
Sentencing at Sheffield Crown Court, Judge Graham Robinson said: “The purpose behind sham marriages is to seek to evade strict immigration rules. A sham marriage strikes at the very heart of the institution of marriage itself. It is not a procedure to be adopted as an instrument of convenience.”
The arrests were part of the much wider Operation Relinquish, led by UK Border Agency specialists targeting people suspected of organising sham marriages.
Last summer 27 brides, grooms and ‘fixers’ were arrested across Yorkshire for trying to gain UK citizenship through deception.
Bogus bride Vilckova was not in court. She vanished after her wedding and is still on the run. A warrant has been issued for her arrest.
Her groom Ahmed , the eldest son of a poor family from rural Kashmir, who said he needed cash to support them, nitially told police his wedding was genuine and said he had lived with her for 12 months.
But her boyfriend Benak said he and Vilckova had been approached by Mehmood and paid £200 to take part in the wedding. He had £700 cash when he was arrested.
Demeter, a friend of Mehmood’s, acted as a go-between and accompanied the fake couple to the ceremony because they were frightened.
Benak and Demeter both have criminal convictions in Slovakia including robbery, burglary, fraud, theft, embezzlement and blackmail.
‘Fixer’ Mehmood, who is divorced from his first wife, a Slovakian national, was granted leave to remain in the UK until 2012 and was living with a Slovak woman in Sheffield.
He was involved when Kornelie Ferkova, aged 26, married a Pakistani man on July 12 last year. The man has absconded .
Ferkova, who speaks no English, was set up in a flat in Sheffield by Mehmood, who cajoled her to take part in the sham marriage.
She was at home in Sheffield with her real partner and three children when she was arrested three months later, said prosecutor Sarah Wright.
She was told she would be paid for getting married. Mehmood acted as interpreter for Ferkova’s groom.
When Czech bride Marcela Kacmarcikova, 35, married Pakistani man Muhammed Shahzad last March, Mehmood was involved.
She and her groom did not speak the same language and never lived together. She had a partner and children in Oldham. Mehmood arranged their wedding.
The Star reported in December how she has already been jailed for three months after admitting breaching immigration rules. Shahzad is serving 12 months in jail.
Gang leader Mehmood was jailed for 15 months, and gang members Demeter and Benak were jailed for 12 months each.
Groom Ahmed was jailed for 15 months and bride Kornelie Ferkova was jailed for seven months.
All five admitted conspiring to obtain leave for others to remain in the UK by deception.
Mehmood and Ahmed both also admitted signing a false certificate to procure marriage.
Jeremy Oppenheim, regional director for the UK Border Agency in Yorkshire, said: “This operation successfully shows how our specialist Immigration Crime Team are playing a crucial role in not just identifying those involved in a sham marriages but importantly those who are unscrupulously profiteering from them.
“The UK Border Agency is working closely with registrars to identify marriages that may not be genuinee. We will take action against anyone found to have entered into a sham marriage in an attempt to break the rules so they can live in the UK.”
Dave Powell, head of the UK Border Agency Immigration Crime Teams in Yorkshire, said: “The team have become acknowledged experts in investigating this type of offence.”