The defendants were prosecuted for integrating an organised criminal group, which facilitated to Tunisian national the illegal entry, transit and stay in Europe. Specifically, it engaged in and developed a consolidated practice of false marriages, whereby Tunisian nationals would marry EU citizens so as to obtain a “E.U. residence permit” in Spain; that is, administrative documentation that would allow them to reside in any EU country, including France. The individuals involved in this scheme held family links or were original from the same Tunisian region as the defendants. Indeed, 52 people were heard in this context. The majority were women irregularly staying in France, who had gone to Spain to undergo a sham marriage so as to obtain Spanish valid residence documentation. The organised criminal group further procured false documents as necessary to follow up on application procedures in Spain.
The organised criminal group counted with several associates with specific roles. For instance, (i) passeurs, (ii) intermediaries, whose task was to receive the Tunisian irregular migrants in France and install/accommodate them in Toulouse (France), accompany them to Spain, procure them “wives”, etc. The defendants were identified as intermediaries of the organised criminal group based – and operating mostly in – France.
N.A. was identified by all concerned individuals as the person that received irregular migrants in Spain and accompanied them in all the administrative steps before Spanish authorities. He was also the one procuring the necessary false documents to initiate the aimed administrative procedures. He charged 6 000 Euro for individual case. A total profit of approximately 330 000 Euro was ascertained for the period 2007-2011.
The organised criminal group managed to recruit individuals, especially in the area of Toulouse, by taking advantage of their particular state of need and or vulnerability. Investigations unveiled the identity of other protagonists in the activities of the organised criminal group; however, it was not possible to ascertain they had received any financial or other material benefit for their respective contributions.
Investigations were initiated following the sharing of information by a Liaison Officer deployed in France addressed to POCRIEST (Office on the Fight against Irregular Migration), on 4 February 2010. Public servants at the Migrants Office of Gérone (Spain) had intercepted ten applications for “EU residence permit”, which were accompanied by marriage certificates apparently issued by the Municipality of Lamastre, in Ardèche (France). The documents had been translated into Spanish. In addition, the respective dossiers included copies of ten identity cards (nine men and one woman) and copies of ten Tunisian passports (nine men and one woman). The applications had been submitted in Spain in March 2009. Following this information, POCRIEST liaised with the Municipality of Lamastre. The latter informed that no such marriages had been registered in the municipality, thus confirming the falsified nature of the marriage certificates.
Spanish authorities informed French authorities of the existence of eight other suspicious applications (submitted in the period 2009-2010) They referred to Tunisian men who had “married” French women. The scheme presented the following main features: (i) the French “wife” registered in the Office of Foreigners in Spain, (ii) the “husband”, in a second stage, addressed Spanish authorities and, on the basis of a false marriage certificate, requested the issuing of an administrative document allowing him to regularly reside in Spain. In this manner, the “husband” would have several rights within the EU space.
Thirty-five (35) French individuals “lent” their name to facilitate the operations of the organised criminal group in the fashion explained.
Upon being questioned, despite attempting to minimise his role, K.M. admitted his involvement in the criminal venture as an intermediary. He admitted to have given assistance in respect of six couples. He received between 500 and 650 Euros per couple (as opposed to 1500 Euro as initially agreed).
A.A. also recognised his role of intermediary in the activities of the organised criminal group.
M.A. was accused of being involved in five false marriages. He denied the charges, arguing to have merely put certain persons (i.e. irregular migrants) in contact with others (specifically, the leaders of the organised criminal group). He confirmed to have served as “intermediary” in four marriages, in the context of which his role was simply that of transporting individuals to Spain. He stated to have only perceived compensation for the expenses of the travel (by road). He could not convincingly explain the reason why he accompanied and remained with the couples in Spain. Nor could he explain the opposing declarations of his wife regarding the payments he perceived for his activities in the framework of the organised criminal group.
In ascertaining the facts, authorities relied inter alia on testimonial evidence, searches and seizures, electronic surveillance (notably, the mobile phones of the defendants). Searches to the properties rented by the leaders of the organised criminal group in Spain permitted to seize several false documents, official stamps from both Spanish and French civil/administrative authorities, and I.D. documents.
The Court of First Instance of Bordeaux (France) convicted the appellants of migrant smuggling.
For further details see “History of Proceedings” and “Commentary”.