A Portuguese man admitted acting as a ‘fixer’ in a sham marriage at a Bristol church, The UK Border Agency reports.
Appearing at Bristol Crown Court on 10 September 2010, José Castanheira pleaded guilty to introducing a Portuguese woman and a Nigerian man and acting as a witness at their wedding in exchange for cash. He is due to be sentenced at the same court on 1 October.
A sham marriage typically involves a non-European marrying a European Economic Area national or British citizen in order to try attempt to gain the right to live, work and claim benefits in the UK.
Castanheira’s guilty plea follows a UK Border Agency crackdown on organised criminal networks exploiting the immigration system and the recent successful prosecution of the ‘sham marriage vicar’ who received a four year sentence last week.
UK Border Agency investigators uncovered the sham marriage plot after arresting a Nigerian man in January 2010 on suspicion of using false identity documents to work illegally for the NHS in Bristol.
They found that the Nigerian man, who was living in Bradley Stoke, Bristol, had married a Leicester-based Portuguese woman at St Bartholomew’s Church, St Andrews, Bristol, in September 2007.
The Portuguese bride was arrested in February 2010 and told officers during an interview that she had been introduced to her Nigerian ‘husband’ by a friend called Joao Santos – a false identity used by Castanheira.
She said she travelled with ‘Santos’ from Leicester to Bristol on the day of her wedding before returning the same day once the ceremony had taken place.
Investigators found “no evidence that the ‘husband and wife’ ever lived together”. Santos witnessed and signed their marriage certificate.
The pair involved in the sham marriage were bailed separately but have failed to comply with conditions.
Both continue to be sought for questioning by police and the UK Border Agency. Attempts are being made to locate them in the UK and overseas.
‘Santos’ was arrested in April and during an interview at Bristol’s Trinity Road police station he admitted that his identity was false and he was, in fact, José Castanheira. He said he had entered the UK under his false identity 14 years previously and had been using the name Santos ever since.
Castanheira, aged 35, admitted introducing the bride and groom because the Nigerian man needed a UK visa. He said he received £500 for his role from the bride, who had been paid £3,000.
Today at Bristol Crown Court, Castanheira admitted facilitating illegal immigration by helping organise the sham marriage, as well as five further offences:
- marrying a woman from Cameroon in 2003 for £3,000 so she could obtain leave to remain in the UK;
- providing false documents to the Home Office in support of the immigration application of his Cameroonian wife;
- providing his employers in Leicester with false documents to pretend he was Joao Santos;
- facilitating illegal immigration by marrying a Nigerian woman in 2008 for payment of £750; and,
- bigamy for the above marriages.
Speaking after the guilty plea, Zaira Munsif, Portishead-based immigration crime team, UK Border Agency said:
‘As this case shows, immigration scams can be extremely complex and involve many different people.
‘We are committed to tackling the criminals behind offences like sham marriages and and putting them before the courts.’
Damian Green, Minister for Immigration, said:
‘Illegal immigration is big business. At home and abroad, we are tackling highly organised crime groups who make their living by trying to exploit the immigration system and breach our border security.
‘Some of these hide people in lorries in an attempt to cross our borders illegally; some provide them with fake identity documents; others set up bogus colleges or arrange sham marriages. Worst of all – some force women and children to work against their will in the sex industry.
‘The UK Border Agency is carrying out an intense period of activity to go after these organised crime groups to put the ringleaders before the courts and shut off the supply of illegal immigrants at its source.’ Source: UK Border Agency.
People who take part in illegal marriages should be aware that it will not give them an automatic right to a British passport or Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
If you need any immigration advice or help with Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa or an appeal against a refusal please email: