Gardaí probe international scam whereby 1,000 bogus firms used to set up 'sham marriages'
GARDAI are investigating a major international scam that uses hundreds of bogus companies to gain residency rights for illegal immigrants.
The Irish Independent has learned that gardaí have identified a complex network of more than 1,000 companies and business names registered in Ireland by UK-based criminals.
The investigation is part of Operation Vantage, a three-year-long enquiry by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) which has uncovered widespread immigration fraud that has been generating millions of euro for organised crime gangs.
It is suspected the scam has helped thousands of non-EU nationals, mostly from the Indian sub-continent, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, to gain EU residency rights in order to bypass UK domestic immigration laws in the run-up to Brexit.
Gardaí and UK immigration authorities are involved in a major joint investigation to identify the organisers and trace those who obtained residency illegally.
The investigation, under the command of Detective Chief Supt Dave Dowling, is largely focused on individuals from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In one case, gardaí and their UK colleagues identified a UK-born man of Pakistani descent who established 800 companies and business names in Ireland over a three-year period.
Based on analysis of the information gleaned so far, the fraud suspect has made an estimated €2m.
Based in Birmingham, he is the registered owner of a string of companies specialising in immigration and visa services and claims to be a lawyer, a claim which is currently under investigation there.
The upsurge in the bogus company fraud came after the Operation Vantage team smashed a sham marriage scam used to obtain EU residency for illegal immigrants, which included sex offenders and two suspected Isil supporters.
As recently revealed in the 'Sunday Independent', the GNIB is spearheading a major Europe-wide investigation in conjunction with Eurojust, Europol and police agencies in several EU states which is targeting the network that organised more than 2,000 fake registry office marriages here between non-EU males and non-Irish female EU citizens from 2011 to 2015.
Immigration authorities across the EU are trying to trace and then deport hundreds of the bogus 'grooms' from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Mauritius and Algeria.
Under EU law, once married the spouse is entitled to claim EU treaty rights, which enables them to travel, live and work anywhere within the 27 states.
The men then divorce their fake partners, with many applying to secure family reunification rights for relatives living outside the union.
Gardaí have established the majority of the non-Irish EU 'brides' - described as being socially and economically vulnerable females - were trafficked from 10 eastern EU states for the sham Irish nuptials.
It was recently revealed the GNIB is investigating 970 individual marriages involving women from Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia and Portugal in liaison with the law enforcement agencies in those states.
It is understood the investigation centres on marriages between Asian nationals and 200 Latvian, 91 Estonian and 181 Slovakian females. The bulk of the cases involves more than 500 Portuguese 'brides'.
Meanwhile, Operation Vantage identified 16 Irish-based ring leaders involved in the scam, which is estimated to have generated more than €30m for the gangs, who charged between €15,000 and €20,000 for each marriage.
The women, however, were typically paid up to a paltry €3,000 for their services, often arriving in the country on the day of the ceremony and leaving immediately afterwards.
Apart from sourcing the 'brides' and arranging their travel, the fee included coaching the couples on how to convince the registrars they were genuine, providing false documents and PPS numbers, organising the notification and registration of the marriage, and the subsequent application for EU residency.
The ongoing analysis by the GNIB led to the resignation in April of a trainee garda, originally from Bangladesh, who secured permanent EU residency rights after marrying a Lithuanian woman here in a fake marriage five years ago.
The probe also led detectives to two Algerian nationals with strong links to Isil, both of whom had 'married' Slovakian women, and who were subsequently deported.
A spokesperson for the GNIB told the Irish Independent: "This is a very complex, ongoing investigation which involves several stakeholder agencies here in Ireland and law enforcement, and emigration, agencies across the European Union.
"Operation Vantage was launched when the GNIB first investigated what we call 'sham marriages' involving non-Irish EU nationals and illegal immigrants who register as asylum seekers."