Four members of a bumbling sham wedding gang - including a 'marrying' couple who couldn't speak each other's language - have been jailed at Downpatrick Crown Court.
The six-strong gang, made up of French nationals Fatou N'Diaye, Massiame Bamba and Ben Doumbia, and Cameroon nationals Dominic Nartey, Elvis Asaah and Joseph Vutung, were each charged with conspiracy to facilitate a breach of UK immigration law by organising the sham wedding at Newtownards Register Office in December 2013.
Nartey was also charged with identity fraud.
The court heard that all six had conspired to set up a sham marriage between N'Diaye and Nartey. N'Diaye admitted that she knew the proposed wedding was a sham and that she was being paid for her role as a bogus bride.
The plot was foiled by officers from the Home Office Immigration Criminal Investigation team.
The "bride" N'Diaye, and her intended, Nartey, could not speak each other's language and Nartey admitted that he had met her for the first time on the morning the marriage was to take place.
N'Diaye - who admitted that she had been the bride in previous sham weddings - was jailed for six months, Nartey was jailed for two years for conspiracy and a further year on a related identity fraud charge.
Asaah and Vutung received seven months in jail.
Bamba, who was to be a witness at the ceremony, received a suspended sentence. The sixth member of the gang - 'wedding organiser' Doumbia - failed to appear in court and a police manhunt has been launched to find him.
UK Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said: "These sentences send a clear message to the criminals who think they can cheat our immigration laws. Our specialist teams will catch you, and you will be brought to justice.
"Last year we intervened in more than 1,300 sham marriages - more than twice as many as the year before. We are making it even harder for criminals by building a system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate immigrants, and which cracks down on those who flout the rules.
"The new Immigration Act is also making it even tougher for fraudsters by extending the marriage and civil partnership notice period - giving officers and registrars longer to investigate suspicious marriages."
Liam Byrne, of the Home Office's Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team, said: "The dedication of our officers has paid dividends. The individuals who attempted to abuse our immigration laws and marriage system are behind bars."Factfile
The Home Office's Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team is a specialist unit of officers who investigate organised immigration. A sham marriage typically occurs when a non-European national marries someone from the European Economic Area as a means of attempting to gain long-term residency and the right to work and claim benefits in the UK.