SINGAPORE: A sham marriage syndicate that orchestrated the unions of Singaporean men with Vietnamese nationals pulled out all the stops to hide its illegal activities.
The syndicate flew the men to Vietnam for a wedding photo shoot, got them to officially change their addresses to that of a “marital home” and, in some instances, got the men to receive their brides at the airport.
But its elaborate tactics came to nothing when the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) uncovered the six sham marriages it organised. Officers arrested syndicate members between July and December last year.
Revealing details on the case, which was among those that drove up the number of sham marriages in Singapore last year, ICA said that attempts to make the unions look genuine were more elaborate and extensive than the typical case.
The sheer number of people involved in the offences and the effort that went into concealing the marriages set the case apart from others, said Superintendent (Supt) S Maran, ICA’s deputy director of the enforcement division, during a media briefing on Friday (Feb 9).
Fourteen people - seven men and seven women - were involved. Of them, 10, including three of four arrangers, Adrian Kin, Wong Kean Mun and Ho Thi Be Ba, have been convicted.
Court proceedings are ongoing for two more, while one Vietnamese national has been repatriated for unrelated offences, and her fellow countrywoman left Singapore before investigations started. In a typical case, there are two parties, and maybe a marriage agent involved, Supt Maran said.
“They are always coming up with innovative ways and means to show they are genuine, so our work is getting more difficult by the day, to crack such cases, to be able to prove that this is not a genuine marriage,” he added.
Sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, involve using marriage to help foreigners enter Singapore or extend their stay here. The act was criminalised in 2012.
THE TRANSACTIONS: HOW THE SHAM MARRIAGES WORKED
The lead investigators involved in the case, Deputy Superintendent Liew Shi Xiong and Assistant Superintendent Muhammad Izzat Abdul Rahman, said that the grooms, who were in financial difficulties, were offered between S$3,000 and S$5,000 to get married, and between S$100 and S$300 for every successful extension of stay.
Tourists from Vietnam typically get to stay in Singapore for a month upon entry.
The women, who were discovered to be involved in vice-related activities, each paid arrangers about S$20,000 to set the arrangements in motion. After getting married, three of the couples stayed at this same Balestier address, harboured illegally by Ho, one of the arrangers.
“The husbands of these four brides, they changed their address on their NRIC to reflect the same address as their brides so that when the authorities check, they can say ‘I am staying at this place, this is my address’ as some sort of proof,” said ASP Izzat.
Previously, one sign that roused suspicion that a marriage was a sham was the couples living apart.
The men in the syndicate were either friends or ex-colleagues from an interior design firm, the officers added. They said that typically, family members would not even know that the offender got married.
AN APPEAL THAT SET INVESTIGATIONS IN MOTION
It all started after ICA received an appeal against the repatriation of a Vietnamese national from her Singaporean husband. She had been caught for working without a permit twice, and was therefore being repatriated. That appeal, and the authority’s investigation into it, are what set the wheels in motion.
Officers found the case suspicious, discovered she was in a marriage of convenience, and delved deeper, eventually catching on to the five other couples who were similarly married.
In the absence of hard evidence like travel documents that can be used in other types of immigration offences, marriage of convenience offences require innovative investigation methods, officers said. They were unable to reveal details of their investigations so as not to tip off other potential offenders.
“Our officers had to painstakingly go through a tedious interview process, and use other supporting evidence to be able to find that there was a link, to connect the dots,” Supt Maran said.