London: A well-organised sham marriage ring staged fake weddings between Pakistani nationals and eastern European brides so that the men could illegally enter the UK, prosecutors told a court, which is set to hand down jail terms to 18 people in the case.
The 18 defendants, who were held after police unearthed the sham marriage ring, are awaiting their sentencing hearing at Sheffield Crown Court at a later date over their involvement in the gang based in Rotherham.
Czech and Slovak women living in the UK were paid by Asian organisers to fly out to Pakistan where "marriages" were arranged with Pakistani nationals.
Supported by false documents, applications for settlement and family permit visas were submitted to the British High Commission in Islamabad by Pakistanis seeking leave to join their "wives" in the UK, the Daily Mail reported.
As overseas nationals they would have been allowed to stay in the UK as "husbands" of their spouses who were legitimately resident here as EU citizens. But suspicions over the growing number of applications in Islamabad led to the Rotherham-based ring being smashed and none of the 62 fraudulent visa applications were ever granted.
Prosecutor Sarah Wright said: "It was a well-run, professional and indeed commercial operation. It was a massive operation over a considerable period of time."
The phony weddings included brides posing for photographs with their "grooms" and pretending they were getting married. The photos were then submitted in support of visa applications along with false documents claiming the women could support their "husbands" in the UK.
One 25-year-old Czech woman claimed to have been married three times in the space of four months and another "bride" was found with 1,000 pounds in her handbag when she returned to the UK, the report said.
In a series of three trials at Sheffield Crown Court which can only now be reported after restrictions were lifted, seven defendants were found guilty after trials of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration to the UK between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2011.
Another 11 defendants pleaded guilty to the same charge.
Two of the alleged main organisers are on the run.
Wright told the court: "The aim of the conspiracy was to try and enable the applicants to enter the UK unlawfully."
"Although some of the sponsors took part in what appear to be wedding ceremonies with the applicants in Pakistan they clearly had no intention of living with them in settled and genuine relationships."
She said some of the "brides" never attended ceremonies but allowed their details to be used.
A total of 62 fraudulent visa applications were linked to 32 addresses in the UK and false documents were traced back to an address in Broom Grove, near Rotherham town centre, the semi-detached home at the time of the organisers, brothers Talib Hussain, 41, and Tariq Mehmood, 27; Rahina Zaman, 32, and Veronika Horvathova, 21.
Forged documents were also found across the street in a bag in the attic at the home of Mohammed Ramzan, 59, and his wife Musserat Bi, 31. Bi was cleared of conspiracy.
The court heard that Mehmood and Veronika are on the run.