The UK is sending across a clear message — even a Vicar involved in a sham marriage scam will not be spared.
All this became apparent after the Church of England Vicar, Reverend Patrick John Magumba, a 58-year-old Ugandan national, who presided over 3 churches within the Greater Manchester Diocese, received a two-and-a-half year sentence at Bolton Crown Court on 26 January.
Last December, Reverend Magumba pleaded guilty at Bolton Crown Court to conspiring to facilitate a breach of UK immigration law.
He also pleaded guilty to two accounts of theft from his church councils by not declaring income from weddings and funerals.
Between April 2008 and February 2011 Rev Magumba was found to have ignored church guidance and the requirements of the Marriage Act when he conducted 28 sham marriages at 2 of his Rochdale churches.
A sham marriage typically occurs when a non-European national marries someone from the European Economic Area, or the UK, as a means of attempting to gain long-term residency and the right to work and claim benefits in this country.
Father-of-six Magumba "asked no questions" when marrying a stream of Nigerian men and eastern European women who began flocking to his parish in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, from across the UK to celebrate their "happy day".
He even told local church-goers that African worshippers did not feel comfortable around so many white parishioners so he set up separate "African services".
Churches saw the number of weddings rocket after Magumba became the team vicar for St Mary's in Rochdale, St Peter's in Newbold and St Luke's in Deeplish.
The UK Border Agency uncovered a suspected sham marriage had taken place at St Peter's Church, Newbold in Rochdale as a result of its wider investigations into sham marriages in the North West of England. The investigators enquiries revealed that 20 marriages had taken place between Nigerian and European nationals at St Peter's church.
Commenting on the sentence, Immigration Minister Damian Green said: 'Today's sentencing sends a clear message to anyone considering breaking our immigration laws that Britain is no longer a soft touch. We now have specialist teams of immigration and police officers working to prosecute people who commit this form of organised criminality no matter who they are.
'We work closely with the church to identify sham marriages and last April we issued special guidance to help the clergy identify those who seek to abuse the institution of marriage.'
The UKBA added: “North West Criminal and Financial Immigration Team from UK Border Agency worked closely with the Church to tackle this corruption and will continue to work to target this type of immigration crime”.
Magumba was suspended from the Church of England when he was arrested in March.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester said: “The highest standards are expected from all clergy. It is extremely rare for clergy to abuse the trust placed in them by their congregation, community and bishop. At present Magumba is suspended from ministry by the bishop. His suspension will continue while formal Church procedures begin into his conduct.”