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11 people arrested during massive garda operation into sham marriages

Operation Vantage was set up after a trend of foreign men marrying women from EU countries was identified.

Image: Shutterstock/M Reel

Updated 3pm

MORE THAN 200 gardaí investigating marriages of convenience conducted 42 raids on premises across the country today, arresting 11 people.

Operation Vantage kicked off on 10 August this year after authorities noticed an increasing trend of men from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh marrying women from EU countries, particularly Portugal and eastern Europe.

According to gardaí, the investigation has uncovered a number of criminal networks in the UK and Ireland which provide false information and documentation to marriage registrars.

“These criminal elements are gleaning huge profits by organising residency status for non-EU nationals through these marriages of convenience,” a garda spokesperson said.

Searches were carried out in Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Longford, Louth, Limerick, Mayo and Cork as gardaí tracked down evidence of fraud with the help of teams from the Criminal Assets Bureau, immigration services, Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection.

The 11 people arrested are being held at stations at Henry Street, Finglas and Ballyhaunis. A large number of computers, memory devices, phones and false identity documents including driving licences and marriage certificates were confiscated during the searches.

A stun gun and about €30,000 in cash were also retrieved.

Gardaí believe that non-EU nationals are being charged up to €20,000 by these facilitators to arrange marriages. For this fee, they manage all aspects of the marriage from the recruitment and transport of an EU national spouse, the production of false documents, assistance in the procurement of PPS numbers, the notification and registration of the marriage and the subsequent application for EU residency.

There is also some concern that the women from eastern Europe and Portugal are particularly vulnerable and are being brought to Ireland under false pretences.

“Gardaí are working with State Agencies and NGOs in trying to assist vulnerable females affected or exploited in these types of  incidents,” the garda spokesperson said.

Successful new laws

The operation comes after new laws gave powers to marriage registrars to consider whether a marriage is one of convenience. Since 18 August, 55 formal objections to pending marriages have been made and 22 people arrested and charged as a result.

A further 30 marriages failed to go ahead after gardaí made initial inquiries.

A “significant number” of marriages that did go ahead are still under suspicion and could result in people losing their residency status.

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According to the update on the operation from gardaí today, two convicted non-EU national sex offenders also attempted to register to marry in Ireland. Both of these have since been arrested.

The statement also noted that this operation is not connected to the current refugee and migrant crisis sweeping Europe.

“This operation today is specifically targeting those who are abusing the immigration system through marriages of convenience and is not reflective of any of the genuine asylum applications being received from current conflict areas around the world,” it said.

Unequivocal message

Speaking this afternoon, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the operation sends an “unequivocal message” to those who abuse immigration laws that their actions will not be tolerated.

“All necessary enforcement measures will be taken against such persons. They can expect to face the full force of our criminal and immigration laws,” she said, adding that today’s raids are “not a once-off intervention”. 

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