Luton sham marriage gang members jailed

25/11/2011

The ringleader of a gang that staged a sham marriage at Luton Register Office has been jailed today alongside two of his accomplices.

The conspiracy was smashed on 2 November last year when UK Border Agency officers swooped on Luton Register Office as Bilal Bashir, from Pakistan, and Bozena Horvatova, from Slovakia, were about to marry.

Bashir, who had stayed illegally in the UK after his visa expired, had hoped his marriage to an EU national would aid his bid to gain long-term residency in the UK with the associated rights to work and claim benefits.

Victor Lacko, who was due to act as a witness to the wedding, and Jaroslav Husar were among the guests at the George Street West Venue. Jozef Lacko was arrested as he waited in a car outside the building.

Jozef Lacko, 45, and his close relative Victor, 37, appeared alongside Husar, 27, at Luton Crown Court. The Slovak nationals, who all live in Margate, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to charges of conspiring to breach the UK's immigration laws in relation to the marriage of Bashir and Horvatova.

Jozef Lacko, of Ethelbert Road, was jailed for two years and four months, Victor Lacko, of Coach House Mews, for 18 months and Husar, of Athelston Road, for 18 months. Bashir and Horvatova had both been jailed for 12 months at a hearing in February.

Ian Williams, from the UK Border Agency's Immigration Crime Team, said: "Jozef Lacko had the most significant role of the three. It was him who approached Horvatova about participating in the bogus wedding, it was him who accompanied her to the Register Office to give notice of her intention to marry. Ultimately, it was him who set the wheels in motion."

Another guest, a 28-year-old Pakistani man, was identified as a visa overstayer. He was arrested and subsequently deported from the UK.

Ian Williams said: "I hope these convictions demonstrate that UK Border Agency sham marriage investigations do not start and finish with the bride and groom. Our main aim is to identify the organisers who profit from - and fuel the demand for - sham marriages, destroy their criminal business and put them behind bars."

A marriage certificate alone does not give foreign nationals the right to live and work in the UK. Their relationship has to be genuine. If it's not, they face prosecution or deportation.

The operation involved seconded police officers working together with warranted UK Border Agency officers to investigate organised immigration crime. The suspects were all charged on the advice of the Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service.

Anyone who has information about suspicious marriages or other immigration crime can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org where anonymity can be assured.