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13 arrested for sham marriages in Cyprus

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Thirteen people have been arrested for organising 133 sham marriages in Cyprus, all civil weddings in three local town halls, with the fees ranging from €5,000 to 10,000.

Eurojust, the EU agency dealing with judicial co-operation in criminal matters, said that judicial and law enforcement authorities in Cyprus, Portugal and Latvia dismantled a criminal network suspected of organising 133 sham marriages on the island to facilitate illegal immigration into the European Union.

During a joint operation carried out on Monday, Eurojust said that 15 suspects were arrested, of whom 13 in Cyprus, one in Latvia and one in Portugal.

According to the investigations, the criminal network was also involved in human trafficking and money laundering activities, as well as forcing victims into bogus marriages for immigration purposes.

The majority, or 107 of the sham marriages took place in Aradippou Municipality, 25 in Nicosia Municipality and one in Livadhia, on the outskirts of Larnaca.

It is not yet clear if municipal officers were on the take in order to accommodate the sham wedding ceremonies.

Earnings from ceremonies

Civil weddings are extremely popular for municipalities in Cyprus, with some town halls earning up to €500,000 a year from the ceremonies.

“The suspects allegedly recruited Latvian and Portuguese women and facilitated their journeys to Cyprus, where they entered into arranged marriages with third-country nationals,” Eurojust said.

“The suspects arranged all of the logistics, including the purchase of flight tickets and the acquisition of passports and other required documents.”

The agency said the marriages enabled the non-EU nationals to obtain residence permits from third countries, which they then used to travel to other European countries.

“A total of nine cases have been opened at Eurojust since 2022 for the facilitation of execution of European Investigation Orders and European Arrest Warrants linked to this investigation. The agency organised two dedicated coordination meetings and facilitated the judicial cooperation between the authorities involved during the action day.”

Eurojust said that Europol’s Operational Task Force (OTF) Limassol was set up to facilitate the joint efforts of the Law Office of the Republic and the police in Cyprus, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the State Police of Latvia, and the Lisbon Public Prosecution Office and the judicial police in Portugal, in order to dismantle this criminal network.

News reports said that Portugal first provided information to the Cyprus authorities in November 2020 and investigations had been ongoing since.

Europol supported OTF Limassol by facilitating information exchanges, coordinating and financing operational activities and providing tailored operational analytical support. During the action day, Europol supported the field activities by crosschecking the operational information collected in real time.