SINGAPORE: A single tip-off on a sham marriage in March last year led officers from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to uncover one of the largest sham marriage syndicates to date.
In all, 17 syndicate members were identified between March and July last year, ICA said during a media briefing at its headquarters on Tuesday (Jun 19).
A sham marriage, or marriage of convenience, is a ruse to help foreigners enter Singapore or extend their stay here. The act was criminalised in 2012.
Of the 17 syndicate members, 12 have been convicted, two left Singapore before investigation started, one was not charged due to a medical condition and court proceedings against two of them are ongoing.
The men, Singaporeans aged between 24 and 57, entered the sham marriages for money while the women, all Vietnamese aged 23 and 24, wanted to prolong their stay in Singapore.
“They were taught to understand each other’s background to avoid detection by the enforcement agencies. One of the local spouses had flown to Vietnam to meet and understand the foreign spouse’s family background,” said officer-in-charge of special investigations Assistant Superintendent Ong Teck Wee.
The syndicate was made up of four arrangers – three Singaporean men and one Vietnamese woman who orchestrated seven sham marriages.
The purported ringleader was Jeremy Tan, who was involved in fixing five sham marriages. The 32-year-old was in January this year sentenced to two years in jail and fined S$42,000 – the harshest punishment so far for sham marriages.
ICA said that Tan had suggested to several Singaporean men, who were in financial difficulties or who wanted to earn extra income, to enter a marriage of convenience. The men were promised a sum of money for doing so.
Tan facilitated meetings between the men and their foreign spouses and told them they did not need to fulfil any marriage obligation.
HOW TAN STARTED OUT
Tan arranged the first sham marriage in 2014, when he introduced his friend Alvin Quek, 27, to Vietnamese Le Y Senl, 28, at a barbeque in East Coast Park. Tan suggested that Quek marry the woman, who was on a 30-day visit pass, so she could extend her stay in Singapore.
Quek agreed and the wedding took place on Dec 8 that year. According to court documents, he received S$800 as a reward. Le gave Tan S$6,000 for arranging the marriage.
Quek and Le stayed separately. Quek also went on to arrange other marriages, and was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in jail in August 2017. Le was jailed for six months.
Between November 2016 and April 2017, Tan syndicate arranged more marriages of convenience.
It was the investigation into one such marriage early last year that unravelled the work of the syndicate.
In November 2016, Tan and 35-year-old Vietnamese national “Jenny” collaborated and arranged a marriage of convenience between Le Nhu Ngoc, 24, and Ong Yao Hui, 24. Le paid Tan S$12,000 for the arrangement, while Ong received S$800.
The marriage took place on Jan 14, 2017 at a barbeque pit in East Coast Park. ICA said it received a tip-off from someone who knew the couple.
CRACKING SHAM MARRIAGES ‘A CHALLENGE’
ICA figures show that 53 people were convicted of marriage of convenience related offences last year, down from 124 in 2013. While the numbers have come down, ICA officers said that cracking such cases and prosecuting suspects remain a challenge.
Speaking about the case, senior prosecution officer Muhammad Izzat Abdul Rahman said that based on the large number of people involved, it was hard to uncover the overall narrative because of different people saying different things.
“Generally speaking, for a marriage of convenience case, especially a syndicated case, evidence is not as forthcoming as in other immigration offences,” he added.
For example, for overstayers, there is clear evidence – a pass – to show that a person has overstayed.
“For a marriage of convenience case, however, the evidence is not so concrete, so it requires more effort to unearth this evidence to be able to make out the offences,” he said.
He urged members of the public to come forth with information if they suspected that anyone was in a marriage of convenience.
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