Lucrative sham-marriage scam brought to an end at Dublin cricket match

Gang leader arrested in his cricket whites, jailed for week and now deported

Mohammed ‘Romi’ Ramzan (40) booked tickets for more than 100 brides to fly from Latvia and take part in sham marriages.

Mohammed ‘Romi’ Ramzan (40) booked tickets for more than 100 brides to fly from Latvia and take part in sham marriages.

 

It seems like a case DCI John Barnaby would beaver away at on ITV’s Midsomer Murders. But the arrest of a middle-aged cricketer in his whites in north Co Dublin last week underlines the varied and ever-changing challenge to the Garda posed by organised crime.

In the Irish context, organised crime is inextricably linked to the gangland or underworld milieu. But some of the most successful modern crime gangs never do any of their business down the barrel of a gun.

Last Wednesday evening, spectators watching a match at the Hills Cricket Club, Skerries Road, Co Dublin, were stunned when one of the players was seized by gardaí as he walked off the crease during the interval.

Muhammad “Romi” Ramzan (40) from Pakistan did his best to laugh off the interruption. But seven days later he is back in Pakistan, having been deported on Tuesday after a week in Cloverhill Prison.

His is a tale of modern organised crime.

Born on January 1st, 1978, the authorities in Ireland first became aware of him in 2008 when he sought asylum. He was one of 3,866 foreign nationals to do so that year, 237 of them Pakistani.

The result was against him so he appealed. In December, 2009, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal rejected his case. But by now he had a fall-back plan. Then aged 31, he married a 20-year-old Latvian woman.

The wedding, such as it was, took place in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, in the same month his application for asylum was rejected on appeal.

Five years

As a newly married man, with a bride from the EU, he applied in January 2000 for residency. He was successful and given permission – under a Stamp 4 EU-Fam endorsement to his passport – to remain in the State for at least five years, to July 2015.

In the years that followed his marriage, gardaí noticed the number of Asian men applying for asylum was rising fast. So fast, in fact, it was significantly skewing national asylum seeker trends.

Officers became convinced that about half of the marriages in Ireland in the 2½-year period to the middle of 2015 were bogus; motivated not by love, but by immigration status.

It meant well over 1,000 men, almost all Asian, paid between €15,000 and €20,000 each to criminals – some to Ramzan – who arranged their marriage in Ireland to European women they had never met before.

Own marriage

As the first inquiries were being made in 2013, before Operation Vantage formally began, Ramzan’s name continued to crop up in cases.

Gardaí decided to probe his own marriage and very quickly realised it was a sham. However, the Garda was more concerned about the sham marriages he was arranging.

The Garda National Immigration Bureau teamed up with the Latvia state police and Eurojust, the EU’s criminal justice co-operation body, to investigate him.

A criminal relationship between Ramzan and a Latvian woman in Riga was unearthed; he supplied the grooms and she the brides – for weddings in Ireland.

So prolific was his operation that the Garda inquiry linked Ramzan to the booking of more than 100 flights for brides. He also facilitated illegal immigration and the supply of false documents.

The woman based in Latvia that he worked with is now wanted in her home country and the subject of a European arrest warrant.

Cancelled

The marriages they organised in Ireland are still being investigated by the Garda.

Officers working on Operation Vantage recommended that his European Union treaty rights be cancelled, which they were. He was returned to being a failed asylum seeker with no standing in the Republic, or anywhere in Europe. As a result a deportation order was signed.

However, he refused to leave the State voluntarily or to present at designated Garda stations for deportation so the Garda National Immigration Bureau’s evader tracking unit was charged with looking for him.

That search brought a surveillance team to the Hills Cricket Club last Wednesday evening. Undercover officers were dotted around the cricket field to ensure he could not escape.

They pounced as he walked off the field during a break in play.