Four people, including a man who tried to sell his own sister, have been jailed for a total of nine years for their part in a sham marriage scam.
At an earlier hearing, 22-year-old Michael Wright from Swindon admitted trying to sell his own sister, who had learning difficulties, into a marriage with a Chinese immigrant.
Wright was arrested by our officers from the South East region immigration crime team on 20 August 2009 as he arrived with his sister at Reading register office for the ‘ceremony’ with would-be groom Ligang Qiao, 29.
Li Fan, 33, and her boyfriend Bing Liu, 30, were arrested at their home on Erleigh Road in Reading on the same day, as part of an operation led by Thames Valley Police officers seconded to us.
Wright had met the other three members of the gang when they all worked at the same Berkshire burger bar. In 2008, he married Fan in another sham marriage, for which he was paid £4,000.
He then plotted with the other three to allow Qiao to marry his sister in exchange for £8,000, in an attempt to aid Qiao’s application to stay in the UK once his visa ran out.
Their plan was foiled when a registrar raised doubts about the proposed wedding and reported it to us.
At a hearing in November, Wright pleaded guilty to two counts of assisting unlawful entry into the UK and two counts of perjury, while Ligang Qiao admitted two counts of perjury.
Li Fan also admitted two counts of perjury and obtaining leave to remain in the UK by deception, while Bing Liu pleaded guilty to attempting to assist illegal immigration into the UK.
Wright was jailed for four years, while Qiao was given a 15-month sentence. Fan and Liu received 18 months and two years respectively. The three Chinese nationals were also recommended for deportation at the end of their sentences.
Detective Inspector Andy Cummins of the UK Border Agency’s London and South East region immigration crime team said:
‘This was a despicable crime. Michael Wright attempted to exploit a member of his own family for his own financial gain. His motive was purely greed.
‘The other members of the gang also sought to take advantage of a vulnerable woman for their own benefit.
‘The sentences handed down today show how seriously we, and the courts, take these kinds of attempts to undermine our immigration laws.
‘My officers and I are determined to track down and stop this kind of abuse, and we hope today’s sentences send out a message that anyone who tries to enter into or organise a sham marriage faces arrest, prosecution and a long time in prison.
‘Foreign nationals who commit this type of crime will also face deportation.’
All allegations regarding any type of sham marriage – including marriage for cash, bigamy and marriage to relatives – are investigated. Where evidence can be obtained, appropriate action is taken.
UK Border Agency area director Gareth Redmond said:
‘I’m pleased with today’s sentences, and it shows once again the success the UK Border Agency is having in stopping this sort of abuse.
‘We now have specialist teams of immigration officers and police working side by side to investigate and prosecute these kinds of cases.
‘This case shows there are now heavy penalties for those who try and abuse the marriage route.’