Four people who had been convicted at the Old Bailey of immigration fraud were sent to prison on 18th February 2013. They were sentenced as follows :
- Tevfick Souleiman – 10 years
- Cenk Guclu – 9 years
- Furrah Kosimov – 9 years
- Zafer Altinbas – 6 years, 9 months
Mr Souleiman is a solicitor (but won’t be for much longer – that he will be struck off is a certainty). The other three defendants were immigration advisers at Mr Souleiman’s firm. This means that whilst they were not qualified lawyers, they were regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner as being qualified to give immigration advice (it is a criminal offence to given immigration advice if unqualified).
All defendants were also convicted of money laundering offences. This would have related to disposing of the proceeds of the immigration fraud.
What were the facts?
We can only go on the news reports. It seems that this was a large scale immigration fraud factory. The firm offered a package to non-EU citizens seeking to come to the UK. For a fee of approximately £14,000, the firm would set up a sham marriage and give sufficient forged documents to satisfy the UKBA.
The fraud took advantage of the freedom of movement rights in the EU Treaties. The law is complex but, in essence, if a non-EU citizen marries a non-British EU citizen who is in the UK exercising their EU Treaty Rights (normally as a worker), then the non-EU spouse will be entitled to live her. They will initially get a five year work permit.
What were the offences?
It is not completely clear exactly what the immigration offences were, but we can assume that it was a Conspiracy to commit a breach of s25 Immigration Act 1971. This reads:
A person commits an offence if he—
(a) does an act which facilitates the commission of a breach of immigration law by an individual who is not a citizen of the European Union,
(b) knows or has reasonable cause for believing that the act facilitates the commission of a breach of immigration law by the individual, and
(c) knows or has reasonable cause for believing that the individual is not a citizen of the European Union.
Because this is a conspiracy, the prosecution had to prove that all defendants knew that the acts (provision of false documents and arranging the sham marriage) facilitated the commission of a breach of immigration law – suspicion would not have been enough.
In this case, it is likely that the issue at the trial would have been who in the firm knew what. Those defendants that pleaded not guilty would probably have said that they had no knowledge that it was anything other than a ‘genuine’ immigration case.
Why were those sentences passed?
Firstly, Mr Altinbas pleaded guilty and was therefore entitled to a lower sentence. We have looked at credit for pleading guilty here. It seems that he received ‘full’ (ie a third) credit for this plea, notwithstanding that it was entered, seemingly, when the case had been listed for trial. We don’t know whether this was because the Judge thought it proper to do so in all the circumstances, or whether there was any other factor (such as that he gave evidence against the others).
The other defendants pleaded not guilty and therefore got no discount. The maximum sentence for the Immigration offence is 14 years imprisonment. The Judge would probably have given a shorter concurrent sentence for the money laundering as being part and parcel of the immigration fraud.
Mr Souleiman got ten years. This is short of the maximum, but is still a very, very long sentence. The case of Le & Stark  1 Cr App R (S) 422 gives some guidance. Whilst the maximum sentence has been increased since 1998, the aggravating factors there are still relevant. The factors identified were :
(1) it was a repeat offence
(2) committed for financial gain
(3) the defendant took a prominent role;
(4) it involved the facilitation of the entry of strangers rather than family members
(5) it involved a large number of illegal entrants
(6) a high degree of organisation and planning was evident
It can be seen that all the aggravating factors were present. The fact that Mr Souleiman was a solicitor is an aggravating factor as this involves a ‘breach of trust’ – a solicitor is a trusted professional and to abuse that trust to commit the offence is clearly serious.
As to why Mr Guclu and Mr Kosimov got a (slightly) lesser sentence? It may be partly because the breach of trust was slightly lesser, but, more likely, because Mr Souleiman was the main mover of the operation.
It must be remembered that the total value of the fraud would have been in the region of £25 million. This is probably one of the most serious cases of immigration fraud imaginable. In those circumstances, it is unlikely that there will be a (successful) appeal. It would not have been surprising had the sentences been slightly higher, at least in the case of Mr Souleiman.