11 await sentencing in West Midlands sham marriage racket

Eleven people are waiting to be sentenced for their part in a sham marriage racket, it can be revealed.

Three women pleaded guilty to their involvement in the sham marriage ring at Wolverhampton Crown Court yesterday, but the full scale of the offences can now be revealed.

Nine of the people involved in the racket, which includes six women and five men, were from Wolverhampton.

The other two were from Warwickshire.

Lucie Ondicova, 25, of Springfield Road; Veronika Ondicova, 22, of Gatis Street; and Petra Michalkova, 33, of Carter Road all pleaded guilty yesterday to their part in the racket.

The trio were brides in the con, which allowed illegal immigrants to stay in the UK.

Men from the Indian subcontinent, with no right to be in the UK, could be given permission to live here by marrying a woman from the European Economic area.

Officials from Wolverhampton City Council and the Home Office said they would not comment on those who admitted their role in the racket until they have been sentenced.

Eight people were originally arrested following police raids in Wolverhampton in October.

The raids came after a year-long inquiry by the Home Office into around 30 suspect marriages. They took place at register offices as far afield as Gretna Green, Scotland, and Hull as well as Wolverhampton, over a two-year period.

Up to 60 officers from the Home Office, the National Crime Agency and West Midlands Police took part in the swoops.

Four men and two women pleaded guilty to being involved in the racket at Wolverhampton Crown Court in April.

Mohammed Akhtar, aged 27, of Dunstall Road, Wolverhampton, admitted 11 counts of conspiring to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non-EU person.

Leon Horvat, 20, also of Dunstall Road, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non-EU person, one count of participating in a sham marriage and one count of conspiring to arrange a sham marriage.

Ishwarjot Singh, 25, of Highfield Road, Smethwick, admitted conspiring to facilitate a sham marriage.

Sandeep Bhullar, 27, of Tamworth Road, Corley, near Coventry, pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non-EU person.

Polish national Marcin Cislak, 32, of Dunstall Road, admitted conspiring to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non-EU person, while Ingrid Monova, 35, of Bright Street, admitted the same offence.

Veronika Mihalova, 21, of Dunstall Road, had also previously admitted conspiring to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law.

And at the start of a trial on Tuesday, which was expected to last two weeks, Vera Horvatova, 53, of Dunstall Road, pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non-EU person.

It is believed that at least two of the marriages took place at Wolverhampton Register Office.

Home Office Inspector Andy Radcliffe, who led the raids in Wolverhampton, said later: "This is organised crime. It is not simply people helping each other out.

"It can involve big money with people paying up to £10,000 to fixers to arrange a sham marriage.

"The organised crime groups source the brides and grooms. Those involved could be foreign nationals whose permission to stay in the country has expired or illegal immigrants."

The bogus weddings typically occur when a non-European national marries someone from the European Economic Area as a means of attempting to gain long term residency and the right to work and claim benefits in the UK.

They pay up to £10,000 to fixers with the bogus bride or groom collecting up to £2,000 or as little as a mobile phone as their payment for taking part.

Some are understood to be flown into the country specifically to take part in the sham ceremony. The rest of the cash goes to fixers or organised crime gangs.

The Home Office estimates up to 10,000 applications a year to stay in the UK are made on the basis of sham marriages, and up to 15,000 of the 173,000 civil weddings that take place in England and Wales each year could be fake.

Investigators believe that up to 20 per cent of those in urban areas are suspect.

Sham marriages are not just used to stay in the country, they also can allow those who slip through the net to use their new found status to find work or claim benefits in this country.

At least three separate inquiries are believed to be underway into the racket in the West Midlands, which is the second biggest problem area in the country.

Immigration minister Mark Harper said after the Wolverhampton raids: "We are determined to stop migrants abusing the marriage system to cheat immigration rules."