A GANG of eight people have been jailed to a combined total of more than 12 years following a sham marriage plot conducted in Gretna and Newcastle last summer.
Pakistani couple Muhammad Hanif, 23, of Hampstead Road in Newcastle, and Huma Aslam, 26, of Stanley Road, Cheadle, who were in the UK on student visas, conspired with Czech couple Michael Mankos, 24, of Bamburgh Terrace, Byker, and Katerina Gerychova, 24, of Westbourne Avenue, Gateshead, in an attempt to cheat the rules and gain long-term residency.
Hanif and Gerychova travelled from Newcastle to Gretna on July 24 last year to take part in a sham wedding. They were sentenced to 18 months and 20 months suspended respectively.
And on the same day, and with a ceremony scheduled to start at exactly the same time, Aslam and Mankos visited Newcastle Civic Centre also posing as bride and groom. They were sentenced to two years and 30 months respectively.
The couples had been introduced by sham marriage fixers Waseem Shah, 30, of Derby Court, Newcastle, and Ivan Holub, 24, of Ripon Street, Gateshead, who told them they could help bypass immigration laws.
However, specialist Home Office investigators were aware of the plot and arrested both fake couples as well as the fixers, who were sentenced to 45 months and 33 months respectively, moments before the ceremonies were due to begin.
The couples and fixers were sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court on Friday, along with co-conspirators Vladislava Mankosova, 42, of Fosse Terrace, Gateshead, and Simon Poliak, 19, also of Fosse Terrace, Gateshead – who received 15 months suspended and 13 months suspended sentences.
All eight defendants had pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate a breach of immigration law at earlier hearings.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said: “The criminal gangs who try to cheat their way around our immigration laws will not escape justice, as this case demonstrates.”
And Home Office investigator Craig Hobbs added: “This was a brazen attempt to trample over the marriage and immigration laws.
“Hanif and Aslam and Mankos and Gerychova were in genuine relationships together, but thought nothing of fraudulently marrying people who were essentially complete strangers.
“Foreign nationals who believe a sham marriage is their route to staying in the UK should think again.”