Islington immigration advisor facing jail for fake marriage scam

Immigration advisor Zafer Altinbas pleaded guilty at the start of the trial at the Old Bailey

Immigration advisor Zafer Altinbas pleaded guilty at the start of the trial at the Old Bailey - Credit: Archant

An immigration adviser from Islington is facing jail for his part in a £20million fake marriage scam, along with three others working for the same solicitor’s firm.

Solicitor Tevfick Souleiman, 39, immigration advisers Cenk Guclu, 41, and Furrah Kosimov, 29, were today found guilty at the Old Bailey of conspiracy to breach immigration law.

Zafer Altinbas, 38, of Bemerton Street, Islington, another immigration advisor at the same firm, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to breach immigration law and receiving money from the proceeds of crime as the trial started.

Guclu, from Enfield, and Souleiman, from Hatfield, Hertfordshire, were also found guilty of receiving proceeds of crime.

Kosimov, from Wembley, was tried in his absence, and was also convicted of money laundering. He is thought to have fled to his native Uzbekistan. Souleiman and Guclu were remanded in custody to be sentenced with the others on Monday.

More than a thousand 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. The scam went on for eight years, from 2004 to last year.

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

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

The court heard that men would pay up to £14,000 to Souleiman GA Solicitors, in north London, for a marriage package, which included fake tenancy agreements, employer’s references and forged documents.

And to convince officials that their marriages were genuine, there would also be a Mills and Boon-type love story scripted for them.

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.

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

Only a fraction of the money would be paid into the firm’s accounts, the rest of the cash was used to prop up their lifestyles.

Police believe a vast proportion of the money 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.

“Whatever may be recorded in the books, substantial sums were being paid to individuals to arrange these marriages. This was a cash 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 and was responsible for sending around £80,000 to the sham brides.

Much of the evidence had been found in a storage unit which housed files detailing the marriages.

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

But he added: “They were running not only a business but also a racket involving sham marriages.

“Substantial amounts would be paid into personal bank accounts.

“Clients would pay the firm £500 in accounts, but the actual sum was thousands of pounds. That money never went through the books.”

The racket 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.