Scam likened to Nine Network’s Married at First Sight hooked Queensland brides to marry Indian men for money
Brisbane, Feb 24: Migration agent Chetan Mohanlal Mashru and Marriage Celebrant, Divya Krishne Gowda have been jailed over a marriage visa scam, uncovered here, last month.
The husband-wife team of migration agent and marriage celebrant, together, married 16 Brisbane brides off to Indian men as part of a “one-stop shop” for spousal visas, the Brisbane District Court heard during a fortnight-long trial, last week.
Mashru and Gowda were alleged to have wed couples – grooms who were seeking a citizen to help them stay in Australia and brides who would receive large payments, for the favour.
The court heard the case of young Indian student and taxi driver Pardeep Singh, who having failed to have his student visa extended, paid Mashru and Gowda $5000, allegedly, to marry “down with her luck” Josephine Haig.
Haig received a down-payment of $5000 and was promised $1000 a month over the two years, until Singh could apply for permanent residency (PR).
Upon their wedding conducted by Gowda; Singh and Haig were even advised on “how to make it look legitimate,” like setting up a joint back account.
Commonwealth prosecution barrister Greg Lynham told the court that apart from Singh and Haig wedding, another 15 weddings were carried out in 2011 and 2012, being “nothing more than a ruse to obtain a spousal visa”.
“(The townhouse) was no chapel of love,” Mr Lynham said.
“At the time the marriage documents were signed Josephine was not wearing a wedding dress, she had no bridesmaids, there were no vows or wedding rings exchanged, there was no kissing of the bride, no reception, no speeches.
“This was no genuine marriage. It was a sham.”
The court heard that Singh and Haig met on March 27, 2011 and were married the same day.
Mr Lynham told the court the pair had never seen each other before and the jury could be mistaken for thinking it was a television show similar to Nine Network’s Married at First Sight.
9Network reported Manjeet Singh, Mashru’s client, married 18-year-old Renee who was offered $600 upfront and $1,000 every month for a period of two years.Divya Krishne Gowda arrives at the District Court in Brisbane, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. Renee told Nine News that she was struggling financially was enticed by the idea of earning money quickly after a friend introduced her to Chetan Mashru and Divya.
“She said, ‘don’t worry, you can’t get into trouble, they won’t find out,” said Renee.
Another Indian man, Ripan Thind, who wanted his visa extended told the court he paid his Australian wife and Chetan Mashru $35,000-40,000 for his fake marriage, so that he could stay in Australia.
When Thind contacted Mashru, a migration agent for extending his student visa, Thind was instead suggested a fake marriage.
Thind alleged he made a payment of $9,600 on the day and he and Alina Buza signed their marriage certificate. He told the court that he paid a total of up to 40,000 to his Australian wife Buza and Mashru.
Mr Lynham told the court the couple ran a “sham” operation marrying Australian women with Indian men.
The marriage scam allegedly operated out of the couple’s Oxley townhouse, south of Brisbane, from March 2011 until March 2012. Over the 12 months, 16 Australian women and 15 Indian men were involved in the alleged scam.
Two sisters and a cousin were also among the so-called brides who were paid to be involved.
Many of the brides and grooms from the 16 marriages the couple organised, appeared in the court during the trial and testified as witnesses.
It is understood that Mashru and Gowda, in running the sham visa scam made more than $100,000 by fleecing Indian men who were desperate to stay in Australia, according to AAP.
The trial heard some men were ready to pay up to $40,000 for the sham marriages to Australian women to secure their stay in the country.
“It was not a small scale affair by any means,” crown prosecutor Greg Lynham told the court.
“There’s no courtship, there’s no dating, there’s no getting to know each other.
“It’s simply rock up to the townhouse, sign some forms … and then the parties go their separate ways, usually with the bride somewhat financially more benefited than what she was when she walked in,” the crown prosecutor Lynham told the jury in his closing address.
Migration agent, Mashru was facing 50 charges while Gowda, a marriage celebrant, was facing 16 counts of arranging marriages for a visa.
Mashru, who was representing himself in court, was also charged with delivering a false or misleading document and influencing a Commonwealth official.
The couple together faced 66 charges over the one-stop-shop marriage scam; and had pleaded not guilty to arranging marriages for visas.
But the jury returned a guilty verdict on Thursday, February 16.
Terming their offences “brazen and persistent”, Brisbane District Court Judge Terry Martin said the couple had carried out the enterprise for financial reward.
“Both of you abused your positions within the community,” the Judge said while announcing the sentence.
Divya Gowda arrives at the District Court in Brisbane.
Judge Martin said Mashru was the brain behind the scam. He said while his wife’s involvement was less, it was critical to their enterprise.
Mashru and Gowda were found guilty of total 66 charges for organising 16 sham marriages, hooking Indian men desperate to stay in Australia, with Australian women between March 2011 and March 2012.
Mashru has been sentenced to maximum four-and-a-half years in jail and his wife Divya will serve 18 months behind bars before being released on a three-year good behaviour bond, AAP reported.
Mashru will spend a minimum of two years and three months in jail.
The pairs who were part of the farce weddings will now have to seek annulments or divorces.