A vicar is on trial this week after being accused of conducting nearly 500 sham wedding ceremonies.
Nigerian-born Reverend Nathan Ntege of south London is accused of presiding over the second largest number of sham marriages to date, all of which are thought to have taken place within 15 months.
Reports from The Times stated that the church of St Jude with St Aidan in Thornton Heath bore witness to an average of six marriages a day during the time period under srutiny, an increase from the average of six weddings a day that was previously recorded at the church.
The sham marriages are thought to have been arranged by people looking to get around the UK spouse visa laws. Under law, however, weddings arranged explicitly to allow a non-European Economic Area (EEA) national to gain a UK visa by marrying someone with European citizenship are illegal and won't stand up under law.
Rev Ntege is thought to have profited significantly from the marriages, pocketing more than £69,000 in wedding fees between 2007 and 2011. Around £55,000 of this was transferred to Uganda where he was ordained.
The paper reported that Prosecutor Edward Lucas told Inner London Crown Court: “The non-EEA citizens could seek to stay in the UK as the spouse of a national. Persons wishing to go through with these bogus or sham marriages were introduced specifically to this church because it was a no-questions-asked church.
“The weddings that form the subject of this case were neither conducted correctly or legally and their sole purpose was to facilitate an industrial-scale abuse of the system of immigration control within the UK.”
The reverend is not the only one standing accused in the case. Church verger Brian Miller, 81, and the church's secretary Maudlyn Riviere, 67, are also facing charges of commissioning a breach of UK immigration law, as well as further charges relating to the organisation of the weddings and recording false details on marriage certificates.