Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Marriage for sale' racket hits London

Culled from the Sunday Times of London

Scotland Yard's serious crime squad has uncovered an international racket in which hundreds of marriages have been carried out under false names. Drug addicts, alcoholics and down-and-outs from Amsterdam and Hamburg have been paid to come to London to secure false marriage certificates for Ghanaian refugees who face deportation from West Germany and Holland.

The Yard believes that a well-organized gang is responsible for 222 marriages this year and now fears that Chinese wishing to leave Hong Kong illegally may try a similar ploy.

The police were first alerted in May by a marriage at Willesden register office between a Dutchman and a Ghanaian. Since then detectives have attended 12 marriages and arrested 63 people. About half have been sentenced to periods of between six and 15 months and all have been recommended for deportation.

The influx, which the police believe has been going on since January, has been caused by the economic crisis in Ghana, exacerbated by the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians from Nigeria last year.

Faced with unemployment and food shortages, many Ghanaians have tried to get into Europe. Unable to get through immigration controls in western countries, they can fly direct from the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to East Berlin, where the authorities are said to be only too happy to allow them to land and put them on a train to West Berlin. There, their travel documents are seized and they are placed in refugee camps while their cases are investigated. Faced with deportation and a return to the poverty of Ghana, most are prepared to try desperate measures.

The system for acquiring false nationality in Holland or West Germany works like this: the refugees are approached by a member of the gang and agree to hand over up to £1,000 and their birth certificate. The gang trick elsewhere in the country." then finds a hard-up European, often a drug addict or derelict, and pays him or her about £400 to travel to London. In European cities, a passport is required for the marriage ceremony. There is no such requirement in London and the rest of Britain.

The European is sent with the Ghanaian's birth certificate and a telephone number of a go-between in London. The linkman introduces the German or Dutch national to a Ghanaian who, with the birth certificate, will pose as a refugee. The couple can then get married at any London register 'bride' office within two days, with the Ghanaian using the name of the refugee.

As soon as the ceremony is over the German or Dutch national, equipped with the marriage certificate, returns home to meet the refugee, to whom he or she is now officially married. Both go to the authorities to say they have been married in London and within 24 hours the Ghanaian can be issued with a Dutch or German passport. The next step is arranging a "quickie" divorce. The passport enables the Ghanaian to work within the European Community and to claim social services and medical benefits.

Detective Chief Inspector William Dinnes, in charge of the investigation, believes police have plugged the loophole, although hundreds of people may have slipped back to the Continent earlier this year before the police were alerted.

But there are signs that the gang is trying a new trick. Some Ghanaian women have legally entered Britain for short-term stays of between one and three months and then had a marriage organised with an Englishman or West Indian. Once the Ghanaian woman acquired British citizenship, a divorce took place. The police have discovered about half a dozen such cases and are charging individuals with conspiracy to contravene immigration regulations.

The only way that the Yard can keep track is for the eight officers on the case to check with register offices for marriages between Ghanaians and people with Dutch or West German names. They then attend the ceremony and arrest the couple and their accomplices.

"They are getting married all over London," Mr Dinnes said. "For all we know they could be trying the same Marriage of inconvenience A Ghanaian seamstress whose name was given by London police as Yaa Twewaah had her 'marriage' ceremony disrupted when the man she was scheduled to marry was arrested seconds before the event.

Fred King, aged 35, a lorry driver was arrested as he waited with his at Finsbury Town Hall, London.

Three smartly-dressed strangers appeared, all wearing carnations. But they were not guests. They were from a newly-formed Scotland Yard unit investigating the growing 'racket' in arranged marriages.

He later pleaded guilty to perjury and was given a three-month jail sentence suspended for three years.

The police revealed that Yaa Twewaah had to pay £500 to King and a further £1,500 to a 'middleman' for the introduction to King and to make the wedding arrangements.

The police said she had not been arrested because she did not break the law. She is, however, believed to be back in Ghana.

They further revealed that arranged marriages have become 'so serious' in London and other big cities in Britain that special police units are checking registry office lists to investigate details being given by foreigners and the men or women they intend marrying.

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