Guilty verdicts for £20m fake marriage scam

Members of a north London solicitor's firm face jail for their part in a £20m fake marriage scam.

Solicitor Tevfick Souleiman, immigration advisers Cenk Guclu, and Furrah Kosimov, were found guilty of conspiracy to breach immigration law.

Souleiman, from Hatfield, and Guclu, from Enfield, were also found guilty at the Old Bailey of receiving proceeds of crime.

Kosimov, 29, from Wembley, was also convicted of money laundering.

He was convicted in his absence as he is thought to have fled to his native Uzbekistan.

Another of the firm's immigration advisers, Zafer Altinbas, 38, of Islington, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to breach immigration law and receiving money from the proceeds of crime as the trial started.

1,000 sham marriages

Souleiman, 39, and Guclu, 41, were remanded in custody to be sentenced with the others on Monday.

More than 1,000 men, including members of the Albanian mafia, were able to live in Britain by taking part in sham marriages arranged by the solicitor's firm.

Women from eastern European countries were flown to Britain to marry men from outside the EU.

They turned up at register offices having never met, and were sometimes unable to speak a common language.

The scam went on for eight years, between 2004 and last year.

Men would pay up to £14,000 to Souleiman GA Solicitors, in north London, for a marriage package, the court heard.

This would include fake tenancy agreements, employer's references and forged documents.

Clients would come in from as far as Devon and Scotland and marriages would take place in a number of registrars' offices.

Officials in Cambridge became especially suspicious that so many people from London were getting married there.

Sham brides

Fixer Kosimov would pay for women to fly in from countries such as Lithuania and be housed in a tower block in east London.

A vast proportion of the proceeds, the police believe, was smuggled out to Northern Cyprus.

Nicholas Mather, prosecuting, said the marriages were going ahead despite the regular use of same addresses and a number of errors on applications.

He said: "They made a sizeable amount of money. The arrangement of these marriages was a lucrative business."

Mr Mather said those involved were either working for or were partners in Souleiman GA Solicitors.

Kosimov was "at the very centre" of the conspiracy. He was responsible for sending around £80,000 to the sham brides.

Mr Mather said other work of the solicitors, such as conveyancing, was legitimate.

The scam was uncovered after British police cracked an Albanian drugs and money laundering gang in London.

Brothers Behar and Elton Dika had planned to flood Britain with £900m worth of cocaine but the ship carrying the drugs was raided off the coast of Spain in 2009.

They were later jailed, but investigations showed their marriages had been arranged by the law firm.

Detective constable Barry Byron said: "A year later, we tracked down their off-site operation run by Kosimov.

"It clear it was just a factory for producing various documents for sham marriages."

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