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Sham marriages: wife of alleged mastermind extradited to Cyprus

sham weds 3
File photo

Investigations continued on Wednesday following the busting of a Europe-wide sham wedding ring last week.

The police in coordination with Europol and the Portuguese and Latvian authorities are trying to clear up the case which centred on Aradippou municipality in Cyprus.

Earlier, 13 nationals from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, arrested in Cyprus appeared in Larnaca district court, where their remand was renewed for a further five days.

The 13 persons were arrested in Cyprus during an operation organised by Europol, codenamed “Operational Task Force Limassol”.

According to a statement issued by police dated January 31, the 13 persons appeared to be part of a ring which allegedly facilitated illegal immigration and residence in the European Union.

In addition to the sham marriages, the 13 persons were allegedly involved in a range of other illegal activities including money laundering, forgery and facilitating the illegal entry, transit and stay in the Republic.

In the next few days, investigators from the Larnaca CID are set to travel to Portugal to transfer the wife of the alleged mastermind behind the criminal operation, based on an extradition order. It appears she was involved in the recruiting of brides and grooms.

A request was also submitted to the Latvian authorities for the extradition of a woman who was also allegedly recruiting brides from the country for a fee.

So far, 133 fake marriages have been identified and 15 people arrested in three countries. The alleged mastermind of the group, an Indian national, and 19 other foreigners who allegedly entered pretend marriages to secure residency in the Republic, are still wanted.

According to evidence collected by the Cyprus police, two Indians arrested in Cyprus, aged 25 and 37, were sending sums of money to them to secure a certificate of freedom for the brides and grooms.

Of the total identified sham weddings, 107 took place at the Aradippou municipality, 25 in Nicosia, and one in Livadia. Suspicions were raised after some of the participants later acted as witnesses in weddings that followed their own.

Police are examining a large volume of documents believed to be forged and submitted by the alleged couples to the immigration service. These include rental, insurance and employment documents.

Dozens of statements are still expected to be received from municipal councillors who officiated the marriages, insurance companies, state officials and employers named in the documents.

Aradippou mayor Evangelos Evangelides meanwhile who came under fire for having permitted the weddings, defended the municipality’s actions, saying that the weddings had been performed in accordance with the law, and that the municipality did not have the means to verify documentation without the help of state agencies.

To this end the municipality had undertaken several actions to secure background checks from the embassies and consuls of the various countries implicated, he said.

Others, however, raised the question of why the criminal ring seems to have consistently preferred the municipality of Aradippou out of the 39 possible municipalities in Cyprus for their illegal actions, saying the mayor, at the very least, should have apologised for the scandal.

 

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