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Two Czech, four Nigerian and one Slovakian national, who were at the heart of an international marriage scam in West Yorkshire have today received jail sentences of 13 years after pleading guilty at Leeds Crown Court.
Their convictions followed a co-ordinated set of high-profile arrests earlier this summer across West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester in an operation led by the UK Border Agency's Immigration Crime Team and supported by West Yorkshire Police.
Many of those arrested were apprehended heading for the West Yorkshire churches of St Philip and St James in Scholes and St Lukes in Cleckheaton, just hours before they were due to get married.
The investigation began when UK Border Agency officers received allegations from the Diocesan Registrar who had become suspicious after a sudden spate of applications for marriage, as well as the legitimacy of documentation submitted that pointed towards fake addresses being used.
The UK Border Agency's Immigration Crime Team, made up of Immigration enforcement officers and seconded police detectives, then launched its investigation into what appeared to be marriages of convenience.
During a covert investigation, it was, discovered that the group's ring leader, Adeola Orobiyi, a Nigerian national, made arrangements for a number of marriages of convenience, providing fake documents and false passports, which were used to establish identity and the status of foreign nationals in the UK. He also arranged transportation for those who intended to marry to see the Diocesan Registrar and to attend various meetings with the clergy. A number of forged Nigerian Passports were also recovered from his house as well as numerous identity cards and the passports of Eastern Europeans together with many other incriminating documents.
The moment the wedding plans were set for 11am and 12pm on Monday 20 July, joint teams of around 80 officers from the UK Border Agency and West Yorkshire Police, moved in on the seven in a closely co-ordinated operation that saw arrests made at a number of different addresses in the Bradford and Manchester areas.
The UK Border Agency's Regional Director for the North East, Yorkshire and The Humber, Jeremy Oppenheim said: "Over recent years we have clamped down on sham marriages which is why suspected sham marriages have fallen from over 3,500 in 2004 to under 400 in 2008."