An illegal immigrant who feared her sham marriage was about to be exposed deliberately became pregnant to try to stay in Britain, a judge said on F…riday.
Zambian Leya Mtonga made a ‘conscious decision’ to conceive after she was arrested by Home Office immigration officials, a court heard.
Yesterday she was accused of a ‘selfish and cynical’ act as she was jailed for two years for her involvement in a sham marriage ring – and faces being deported from Britain.
The 39-year-old wed Portuguese national Nuno Moriera, 29, in
Nottingham in 2009. She wanted to use the marriage to get the right to live in the UK. He was paid to join in with the pretence.
The couple was pictured smiling together in photographs seized by investigators. But the marriage was exposed as part of a wider probe into a mass immigration scam, involving a dozen sham weddings in the city.
Mtonga was arrested in June last year and the court heard she then set out to get pregnant to prove her relationship was real. She is due to give birth in nine days.
Home Office Immigration inspector Andy Radcliffe said: ‘We do not know who the father of Mtonga’s baby is, but she insists it is Moriera. If this is the case then it is our belief that they sought to have a child together in a deliberate attempt to make their sham marriage appear credible.
‘It is hard to think of a more selfish and cynical act.’
Sentencing Mtonga and her husband to two years’ imprisonment yesterday, Judge Philip Head refused her lawyer’s plea that she should avoid jail because she is due to give birth, the Nottingham Post reported.
The judge said: ‘I’m driven to the conclusion that it was a conscious and deliberate decision to try to bolster your claim to a genuine marriage.
‘For the avoidance of doubt, I refer to Mtonga’s pregnancy. It is my judgement it was a deliberate manoeuvre on your part.
Custodial facilities exist that are more than capable of meeting your needs.’
Mtonga, 39, came to Britain on a student visa to train as a dental nurse, but never went home.
As her visa was due to expire she turned to HCI Consultants in Nottingham, a firm which claimed to offer ‘immigration advice and services’ but was allegedly at the centre of a string of sham weddings.
The couple were married in Nottingham Register Office in October 2009. Pictures from the day suggest they looked every inch the happy couple. But a three-week trial at Nottingham Crown Court heard theirs was one of a number of sham weddings in the city.
Police and immigration officials are still searching for the alleged ringleader, Nigerian Eustace Okere, who was arrested in October 2009 but jumped bail.
He is accused of providing fake references for European nationals designed to show they were living and working in the UK – so their new spouses could obtain visas.
Home Office officials insisted they were still determined to kick Mtonga and her child out after she gives birth.
However, she could use Article 8 of the Human Rights Act – the right to a family life – to try and launch an appeal.
Two other immigrants, Duke Okorie and Michael Eke, both 39 and Nigerian, were also jailed for two years for sham weddings.
Three other members of the conspiracy, from Nigeria, Zambia and Trinidad, were jailed at earlier hearings and have been deported.