Priest among 34 held in Spanish marriage scam
Madrid – A priest is among 34 people arrested in Spain in connection with a network that staged "marriages of convenience" for immigrants, mostly Colombians linked to drug trafficking, police said Tuesday.
The immigrants paid the gang between EUR 10,000 and 12,000 to marry a Spaniard in order to gain residency papers, police said in a statement.
It said the Spanish "spouses" earned EUR 3,000 each and the witnesses EUR 200.
The gang is suspected of staging more than 100 such "marriages of convenience" and also of forging marriage certificates, which saved on the cost of paying for a Spanish "spouse".
The 34 people arrested included a Colombian-born priest, a civil servant and a Colombian-born woman identified as "Claudia" who claimed to be a lawyer, the statement said.
They are charged with fraud, forging official documents and violating the law on foreigners.
Police believe Claudia may have organised at least 78 marriages of convenience in the Madrid region.
Her clients "were usually of Colombian origin and linked to drug trafficking," the statement said.
The number of immigrants in Spain shot up from 500,000 in 1996 to some 5.2 million currently, including 2.2 million from outside the EU, out of a total population of 46 million.
A large proportion were employed in the service sector and construction industry, which have been especially hard-hit by the economic crisis.
AFP / Expatica