Zim­bab­wean jour­nal­ist jailed 10 years in UK for sham mar­riages scam

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page - Chron­i­cle Re­porter

UNITED King­dom-based Zim­bab­wean jour­nal­ist and for­mer Chron­i­cle Sports Ed­i­tor Cle­mence Mar­i­jeni (pic­tured) and 10 other ac­com­plices have been jailed a to­tal of 52 years and six months after they were found guilty of fa­cil­i­tat­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in sham mar­riages be­tween Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area (EEA) na­tion­als and non-EEA na­tion­als in that coun­try.

Re­ports from the UK yes­ter­day said the 11 peo­ple were in­volved in one of the big­gest sham mar­riage rings to be un­cov­ered in the West Mid­lands.

The me­dia re­ports said on Septem­ber 7, 2013, a mar­riage was dis­rupted in Stoke be­tween two in­di­vid­u­als who later ad­mit­ted that it was a sham.

A po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion iden­ti­fied Olatunji George (41), Mar­i­jeni (43) and Don­ald Nwachukwu (42) as the key fa­cil­i­ta­tors of the sham mar­riage.

Mar­i­jeni, who also once worked for the Tri­bune news­pa­per in Harare as Sports Ed­i­tor be­fore leav­ing for the UK, was sen­tenced to 10 years in jail for his part in the scam.

The Wolver­hamp­ton Crown Court heard how he and his ac­com­plices would cre­ate packs for in­di­vid­u­als that con­tained forged pass­ports, wage slips and bills. They would then charge be­tween £2 500 and £3 500 for each pack.

The trio would then sub­mit res­i­dence card ap­pli­ca­tions to the Home Of­fice based on re­la­tion­ships and mar­riages that were not gen­uine.

Fol­low­ing three tri­als, the 11, in­clud­ing Mar­i­jeni, were last Fri­day found guilty and sen­tenced at Wolver­hamp­ton Crown Court.

The three men re­garded as the driv­ing forces be­hind the racket that in­volved at least 45 fake re­la­tion­ships re­ceived the long­est sen­tences.

Nwachukwu, a se­nior pas­tor at the King­dom of God­fire Church in Bil­ston, was jailed for eight years.

He used his po­si­tion to iden­tify West Africans who were in the UK il­le­gally and ask them to pay up to £6 500 for per­mis­sion to stay on the bo­gus grounds of being mar­ried to, or in a long term re­la­tion­ship with, a per­son from the Euro­pean Union liv­ing and work­ing in the UK.

About £153 000 worth of cred­its passed through bank ac­counts run by the pas­tor un­der a false name be­fore he was ar­rested at his home in Tit­ford Road, Old­bury.

Mar­i­jeni, from We­ston Road, Bil­ston, was the mas­ter forger who cre­ated the fake doc­u­ments to sup­port the spu­ri­ous ap­pli­ca­tions for Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area (EEA) res­i­dents’ cards that al­lowed the holder to stay in the UK and claim ben­e­fits.

De­scribed as a “graph­ics ex­pert”, he cre­ated fake his­to­ries for the West Africans and their sup­posed long term lovers — mainly Czech or Slo­vakian and promised them up to £1 800 each to take part in the plot which ran from Jan­uary 2012 to March last year.

False util­ity bills, rent books, pay slips and em­ploy­ment records backed the bo­gus claim of a le­git­i­mate mar­riage or last­ing re­la­tion­ship. Some in­cluded pictures of the pair — who were strangers — side by side in bed, fully clothed or shopping to­gether.

Olatunji George (44) — a law stu­dent who had com­pleted a mod­ule on im­mi­gra­tion law — ad­min­is­tered the op­er­a­tion and also got 10 years be­hind bars.

He claimed to be paid up to £1 000-a-time to pre­pare pack­ages of the cor­rect doc­u­ments and fill in the nec­es­sary pa­per­work for the bo­gus res­i­dent’s card ap­pli­ca­tions.

Jozef Puzo (28) of St Paul’s Road, Smeth­wick, was jailed for five years. He pro­vided the fi­nal piece of the jig­saw by earn­ing up to £750-a-time find­ing women and men from the Czech and Slo­vakian com­mu­ni­ties pre­pared to take part in the scam.

Both he and George are now on the run after flee­ing dur­ing their trial but were con­victed and sen­tenced in their ab­sence.

Aishatu Ibrahim (25) from Ox­ford has also gone miss­ing but was given three-and-a-half years and another de­fen­dant — Idris Agia (31) of Hod­net Grove, High­gate — was ar­rested mo­ments be­fore fly­ing out of the coun­try to Nige­ria just a few days ago.

He was jailed for three-and-a-half years. The other five de­fen­dants were each jailed for be­tween two and three-and-a-half years. All de­fen­dants were found guilty of im­mi­gra­tion of­fences.

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