200 gardai involved in nationwide searches in massive sham marriage probe
OVER 200 gardai have taken part in a series of nationwide searches as part of a crackdown on sham marriages.
The raids were part of Operation Vantage which was set up in August of this year to target marriages of convenience.
Recent trends indicate a large number of new notifications of intention to marry from males from the Indian sub-continent to females from EU countries.
The 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.
Gardai believe these criminal elements are gleaning huge profits by organising residency status for non-EU nationals through sham marriages.
42 searches are being conducted of both residential and business premises in Counties Dublin (21), Kildare (3), Meath (1), Longford (2), Louth (4), Cork (1), Limerick (2), and Mayo (8).
As of noon today a total of 11 people have been arrested so far for a variety of offences under the Immigration Act and Criminal Justice Act.
They are being held at Henry Street, Ballyhaunis and Finglas Garda station.
In addition a large amount of computers, memory devices, phones and documents including false identity documents, driving licences and marriage certificates have been seized.
A stun gun and quantities of approximately €30,000 of cash have also been seized during the course of the searches.
55 formal objections to pending marriages have been made so far through Operation Vantage and 22 people have been arrested and charged.
A further 30 marriages between EU/non-EU nationals have not proceeded as both parties failed to show following Garda enquires.
Investigations to date suggest that a significant number of non-EU nationals have been identified who have already obtained Irish/EU residency rights based on marriages of convenience or other false information provided in support of their residency applications.
Operation Vantage has also uncovered a number of people subject to deportation orders attempting to avail of a marriage of convenience.
Two convicted non-EU national sex offenders were also attempting to register to marry. Both of these have since been arrested.
It is believed the criminal gangs are facilitators are believed to be charging non-EU nationals up to €20,000 for arranging a marriage to an EU partner in Ireland.
Detective Chief Superintendant Dowling of the Garda National Immigration Bureau said today that "An Garda Síochána will continue to proactively work with all the relevant agencies to detect and investigate any criminality in relation to the immigration system, particularly in regards to marriages of convenience being used for the purposes of securing an immigration advantage. This is the first phase of what will likely be a long term operation”.
An Garda Síochána have also been closely liaising with other police services throughout Europe through Europol and Eurojust to tackle the cross border nature of this criminality.
There is some concern that vulnerable EU nationals may be brought to Ireland under false pretences for the purposes of marriages of convenience and the Garda Human Trafficking Investigation and Coordination Unit (HTICU) are working closely with Operation Vantage in this regard.
Gardaí are working with State Agencies and NGO’s in trying to assist vulnerable females affected or exploited in these types of incidents.