Authorities will convene at the end of the month to discuss ways to clamp down on sham marriages, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said on Friday.
Following a joint meeting with the interior ministry, Nicolaou said it appeared that a particular category of European citizens were being used by rings that set up sham marriages with third-country nationals living in Cyprus, to secure residence permits in EU member-states.
The meeting followed the recent arrests of five Bangladeshi men and four Bulgarian women in connection with sham marriages.
“It appears that this is part of a wider crime ring operating in the EU, it is not happening in Cyprus only,” Nicolaou said.
He added that there have been less sham marriages in 2015 compared with 2014, “but a tad more in 2016.”
As part of the effort to tackle human trafficking, Cyprus must, take measures that will contribute to preventing sham marriages and the timely investigation of such cases.
“Instructions have been given for a new meeting by the end of the month where new recommendations will be made, and to set guidelines,” the minister said.
On Friday, the state charged the five men and the four women, reportedly members of the Roma community.
The nine suspects, who face charges of conspiracy to commit offences relating to fraudulent marriages, did not enter a plea and the hearing was adjourned for August 11.
They will remain in custody until then. The offences were committed between February 3 and July 29 in Larnaca and Nicosia. The suspects face up to three years’ imprisonment if found guilty.
The case emerged last week after police located the four women and one of the five Bangladeshi men, in a Larnaca apartment.
The women told police that because of their bad financial situation, they had agreed to come to Cyprus and get married to unknown individuals for €1,000. The transaction was facilitated by a female compatriot who lives in Bulgaria against whom police issued an arrest warrant.
One of the women told police she had been approached by a woman in Bulgaria and offered her and her sister €2,000 each to come to Cyprus and conduct a sham marriage.
The four women were initially taken to a shelter for victims of human trafficking, police said, but following further questioning, it emerged they were not victims, but were participating in the commission of the offences and they were arrested on Monday.
One of the men told police he married the wanted Bulgarian woman who facilitated the transactions in April. He said he paid two other suspects €4,000 to arrange for him to marry a European citizen. They brought him in touch the wanted Bulgarian woman, whom he married at the Aradippou town hall.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been a number of cases involving sham marriages between Europeans and third country nationals in Cyprus.
In June, a Pakistani man and a Romanian woman suspected of human trafficking were arrested in Romania on a European arrest warrant and delivered to Cyprus, where they were wanted in connection with trafficking adults, setting up sham marriages and facilitating illegal entry, transit, and residency in Cyprus.
Earlier in the year, in February, two men from Bangladesh were arrested in connection with a sham marriage after authorities were alerted that a 22-year-old woman from Bulgaria, registered as a possible human trafficking victim, arrived in Cyprus.
The woman told police that she was married in Bulgaria, but due to financial problems she was convinced by a compatriot to marry the man from Bangladesh for €1,000.
In the same month, a 30-year-old man from India was arrested after two women from Bulgaria reported that he and another man, also from India, had tricked them into coming to Cyprus on the pretence of helping them find work but instead the two men asked the women to marry them for a €1,000.