Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 17:42 UK

Three jailed over UK visa fraud

Left to right: Rakhi Shahi, Jatinder Sharma and Neeklam Sharma
It is thought Jatinder Kumar Sharma was married to both women involved

Three people who ran an immigration consultancy business in west London have been jailed over what is said to be one of the UK's biggest visa scams.

Rakhi Shahi, 31, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, handling criminal property and immigration offences at Isleworth Crown Court.

Jatinder Kumar Sharma, 44, her husband, admitted his part in the scam in March.

Neelam Sharma, 38, also thought to be Sharma's wife, was found guilty of handling some of the cash in the scam.

But she was cleared of conspiracy to defraud and immigration offences.

The checks were woefully inadequate and frequently non-existent
Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson

Both women had denied the charges. All three lived in Clarence Street in Southall, from where they ran their consultancy Univisas.

Shahi, an illegal immigrant, was jailed for eight years while Neelam Sharma was jailed for four years for money laundering.

Jatinder Kumar Sharma was jailed for seven years.

He admitted seeking or obtaining leave to enter or remain in the UK by deception, possession of identity document with intent, conspiracy to defraud, possessing criminal property and two counts of theft.

The court heard he has been married to Neelam Sharma for about 20 years and recently also married Shahi. Both marriages took place in India.

Sentencing Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson said the criticisms of the government agencies were "plainly well founded".

"The checks were woefully inadequate and frequently non-existent.

"You (the defendants) saw the weaknesses in those systems and dishonestly exploited them."

'Damning indictment'

The group created thousands of bogus documents including college degree certificates, tax and wage forms, references and academic records, to secure UK visas including student visas.

The scam exploited the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, the International Graduate Scheme and other leave-to-remain visa applications.

Police suspect the company secured visas for at least 1,000 people, mostly from the Indian sub-continent, using a network of bogus colleges in London, Manchester, Bradford and Essex.

Eight Pakistani terror suspects who were arrested earlier this year during raids in Manchester and Liverpool are also thought to have used a similar scam to gain UK visas.

Fake certificates found at Univisas office
The fraudsters offered money-back guarantees to clients

The UK Border Agency, the Home Office and the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) were criticised for a "shambolic" system which the fraudsters exploited.

Prosecutor Francis Sheridan told the court the evidence against the trio presented a "damning indictment" of failures of the UK's border controls.

The court heard Home office employees failed to spot discrepancies in employment certificates and wage slips and that some students appeared to have attended two full-time courses simultaneously.

Several applicants gave the same address and in one case one person's sex changed in the middle of the immigration process.

'Major international conspiracy'

Last February the Metropolitan Police and the UK Border Agency raided Univisas' office and found 90,000 documents, including false university certificates and pay slips.

Officers also found passports, 150 ink stamps and £22,500 in cash and seized 980 individual files.

The court heard the fraudsters charged hundreds and thousands of pounds as fees and were confident enough to offer a money-back guarantee to clients.

The scam garnered more than £1.5m in two years, of which police have so far been able to seize £420,000.

Jatinder Sharma was caught when he offered to get an undercover newspaper reporter a post-graduate diploma in business administration and other papers for about £4,000.

Following the verdict Tony Smith, the regional director of the UK Border Agency, said: "This was one of the largest joint investigations ever undertaken by the UK Border Agency and police.

"We believe we have cracked a major international conspiracy to facilitate the entry of illegal immigrants into the UK.

"Those behind it showed total disregard for the law, and their motives were purely financial."

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