'Sham marriages': Irish police make 11 arrests in state-wide operation

Couple exchanging their wedding rings Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Irish police said they have identified a number of criminal networks based in Ireland and the UK which have been making "huge profits" by arranging fake marriages for non-EU nationals

More than 200 police have been involved in a major search and arrest operation in the Republic of Ireland targeting sham marriage and immigration offences.

They arrested 11 people on Wednesday morning and carried out 42 searches at homes and businesses.

A large amount of computer equipment and false identity documents, including marriage certificates, were seized.

Police said non-EU nationals were being charged up to 20,000 euros (£14,000) to arrange an Irish sham marriage.

'Criminal networks'

The investigation is known as Operation Vantage and it was set up in August by the Garda (Irish Police) National Immigration Bureau.

"Recent trends indicate a large number of new notifications of intention to marry from males from the Indian sub-continent (for example Pakistan, India, Bangladesh) to females from EU countries, particularly Portugal and Eastern European countries," a Garda spokesman said.

"This operation has identified a number of criminal networks based in Ireland and the UK who are engaged in the facilitation of these marriages through the provision of false information and documentation to marriage registrars, thus exploiting the asylum and immigration system.

"These criminal elements are gleaning huge profits by organising residency status for non-EU nationals through these marriages of convenience," the statement added.

Wednesday's searches were carried out in Counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Longford, Louth, Cork, Limerick and Mayo.

New powers

A stun gun and quantities of cash, amounting about 30,000 euros (£21,000) in total, were also seized along with the IT equipment and fake papers.

Operation Vantage coincided with the introduction of new legislation in the Republic of Ireland in August that gave marriage registrars powers to intervene if they suspect couples are getting married "solely for the purpose of securing an immigration advantage".

Under the new law to date, there have been 55 formal objections to marriages and 22 people have been arrested and charged with various fraud offences.

A further 30 planned marriages between EU and non-EU nationals have not taken place after the couples failed to attend the ceremonies after police inquiries.

The spokesman said Operation Vantage has also uncovered two non-EU national sex offenders and a number of other people "subject to deportation orders" who were trying to get married in the Republic of Ireland.

The sex offenders have since been arrested.