TOUGH prison sentences have been handed down to three men involved in a sham wedding plan.
Two Huddersfield cricket players and their “fixer” have been jailed for their parts in trying to evade UK immigration laws.
Javed Iqbal, a Pakistani national who played for Holmfirth, Skelmanthorpe and Almondbury, admitted paying £5,000 to arrange for Leicester woman Natalie Roberts to marry him.
He was busted by UK Border Agency officials after he arrived at Huddersfield Town Hall to go through with the fake wedding in April last year.
Yesterday the judge, His Honour DP Hunt, sent Iqbal, 39, to prison for 20 months.
The former Drakes League Overseas Player of the Year was given a 30% discount on his sentence due to his early guilty plea.
His friend and Linthwaite cricket club bowler, Mohammed Taj, was jailed for 18 months. Taj, of Moorbottom Road, Thornton Lodge, had agreed to be an official wedding witness and had loaned Iqbal £2,000 to pay Roberts’ boyfriend, Craig Hughes.
Salim Mullan of Tuskar Road, Leicester, was given two years and eight months for his part in advising the men on how to go through with the scam.
The trio all admitted their parts in a conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration but Taj and Mullan only entered their pleas the day their trial was due to begin. Iqbal also admitted making false statements about his marriage under the Perjury Act.
Natalie Roberts and her boyfriend Craig Hughes, who dealt with the three men, were sentenced last year. Hughes, 30, was given 21 months custody while Roberts, 27, was given a two-year community order with supervision and a drug rehabilitation order.
On Tuesday, Leeds Crown Court heard that Iqbal had been living in the Huddersfield area on a legitimate visa for many years. Outlining the case prosecutor, Kristen Mercer, said in 2010 he began asking about how he could stay in the country permanently.
She said he was given the phone number of a man known as ‘Abdul’. He rang Abdul and was put in touch with Mullan who told him to get some documents and bills ready.
In August 2010 he applied to stay on the basis that he was unfit to travel home, but the request was rejected after an official from Holmfirth Cricket Club confirmed to investigators that he was still playing for the team. A short time later he was found working as a kitchen assistant in Holmfirth.
In December that year he made his first application for a marriage and in March 2011 visited Leeds Register Office with Roberts, but the couple’s behaviour at the meeting was described as “inconsistent” with Roberts being singled out as “nervous” by an official who filed a suspicious marriage form.
On the day of the wedding the court heard that Huddersfield Registry Office received an anonymous email advising them that a sham marriage was about to take place.
Iqbal, who was Holmfirth cricket club’s highest scoring batsman last season and a key bowler, had claimed he was just a customer of the scheme and not an organiser. But he was told by judge Hunt that the buy-a-bride plan had involved considerable time and planning and without his custom the criminality would not have occurred.
He said: “This conspiracy was taken all the way to the point where you and Natalie Roberts arrived at Huddersfield Town Hall as groom and bride with people who were to act as guests.A photographer was booked and Mohammed Taj was prepared to take the role as witness in what he knew was a sham marriage. You shunned all opportunities to back out.The motive was your desire to gain citizenship, by criminal means if necessary.”
Judge Hunt said Iqbal now faced deportation. He added: “Weddings are the foundation of family life. Those who attempt to deceive them are engaging in serious crimes. This kind of offence is now ripe in society and the courts must do what they can to deter other frauds. It’s a problem that appears to be on the increase.”
Thornton Lodge based businessman, Taj, 42, was told although he had played less of a role than Hughes, he had still played a significant part in facilitating the crime by acting as a witness and loaning Iqbal the cash. Taj, who previously played for Primrose Hill, was also reprimanded for his late guilty plea.
Judge Hunt told Mullan his history of arranging sham weddings for people from Pakistan was a “very significant aggravating feature”.
The 57-year-old was jailed for four years in 2005 after he was convicted of being a ringleader in a 26-handed immigration scam. All three men will serve half their sentences before being released on license to serve the rest of the time in the community.
“SEEDY and desperate”.
That was the view from the UK Border Agency last night after two Huddersfield cricketers were jailed for their part in a fake marriage scam.
The two men, Javed Iqbal and Mohammed Taj, were part of a five-strong gang who tried to set up the fake wedding at Huddersfield Register Office.
But officers from the UK Border Agency interrupted the ‘wedding’ after receiving intelligence that it was a sham. All five pleaded guilty to attempting to commit a breach of immigration law at earlier hearings.
Steve Lamb, acting regional director at the UK Border Agency said: “This case is an example of the seedy and desperate nature of immigration crime, with people entering into phoney marriages and cash changing hands simply to cheat the system.
“This gang showed a complete disregard for immigration law and the sentences handed out reflect the severity of the offence.
“Our dedicated crime teams will continue to crack down on those who seek to abuse the immigration system. The message to those involved is clear: We will catch you and we will not hesitate to take the strongest possible action.”
The North East CFI team is a specialist unit of seconded police officers working alongside warranted UK Border Agency officers to investigate organised immigration crime.
Nationally the UK Border Agency now has specialist crime teams of over 700 investigators who are a mixture of immigration officers, police and customs officers working together.