THE Guardia Civil have arrested 28 people and are investigating a further 11 after a sham marriage operation attracting ‘mostly Moroccan men’ was uncovered in Almeria.
The unusual surge of marriages in Roquetas de Mar led the Guardia Civil to launch ‘Operation FLEK’, which discovered an organisation dedicated to arranging the visa-motivated marriages.
Eight of those arrested had ‘clearly defined roles’ in the organisation, involving recruiting immigrants, finding empty addresses for registration and advising the ‘couples’.
A statement published by the Guardia Civil on July 17 revealed the business ‘attracted mostly Moroccan men in an administrative situation of irregular residency in the European Union and those who suggested the option of regularising their situation and acquiring a residency permit by acting as the fraudulent partner of a woman, usually much older in age, Spanish or EU resident.’
The foreigners who sought the illegal marriage paid the organisation between €3,000 and €4,500, with the woman who became the ‘wife’ receiving a sum of between €1,000 and €2,000 and the rest of the money being shared between the organisation’s members.
Suspicions were raised when couples attended marriage interviews and the non-EU citizen could not speak Spanish while their EU partner could not speak Arabic.
Investigators could not understand how two people were ‘unable to communicate between themselves effectively’, needing to speak via an interpreter despite allegedly living together for several months.
Operation FLEK found information suggesting this sham marriage operation had been underway since 2015 and that eight fake couples had been married since September 2016.
Further research revealed there were suspicions of fraud in Almeria over 100 fake couples since 2010.