LONDON – An Indian citizen who arrived as a student in 2000 and went on to perpetuate a series of immigration scams to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds by helping many Indian citizens and others to stay in Britain illegally, has been jailed for 10 years.
Vijay Sorthia, 35, will be deported to India at the end of his 10-year sentence, while his 31-year-old his wife, Bhawna Sorthia, who helped him carry out the scams, was jailed for 15 months and also faces deportation to India.
The couple have three children. The sentences were pronounced in the Isleworth Crown Court on Wednesday.
When Sorthia was arrested at his house in north-west London in May 2010, officials of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) found over 330,000 pounds in cash.
Sorthia and his wife ran an immigration advisory company called Migration Gurus.
UKBA spokesman Adam Edwards said: “Mr Sorthia had dozens of clients who had applied to the Home Office for extensions to their visas, claiming to be ‘highly skilled migrants’. They were mainly Indian and most of them were already here”.
Sorthia had accreditation as an adviser with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), which is linked to the Home Office.
The accreditation enabled him to assist individuals with claims for asylum, as well as immigration, residence and citizenship applications.
Edwards added: “What the couple did was set up a number of cover companies with bank accounts registered in their own names which would provide clients with pay slips and wage payments to make it look like they were employed as things like IT specialists and earning much more than they actually were”.
Between 2008 and 2010, the couple helped more than 160 ‘clients’ illegally gain visa extensions by providing them false documents to claim that they were highly skilled migrants.
Fifteen clients who benefited from the Sorthia scam have also been convicted and sentenced between 8 to 10 months in prison.
Fourteen of them have been banished from UK. The ‘clients’ reportedly paid the couple between 3,000 pounds and 4,000 pounds for their service.
“When officers searched Sorthia’s property they found approximately 330,000 pounds in cash,” Edwards said.
Most of that money, 270,000 pounds, was in a holdall in the back of a cupboard but other bundles of money were also discovered, which had clients’ numbers and names on them.
UKBA’s senior investigating officer Robert Coxhead said: “Vijay and Bhawna Sorthia knowingly flouted the UK’s immigration laws. They ran a sophisticated scam designed to help people who would otherwise have no right to be here to stay in the UK.
“The amount of cash found at their home illustrates how lucrative this was, and we will now begin the process of stripping them of those assets using the Proceeds of Crime Act”.
The court was told that following their arrest in May 2010, the couple sold their London house and transferred 466,000 pounds out of the country and went to India.
They were arrested again after they returned to Britain in July 2011.
Sorthia was convicted of obtaining or seeking to obtain leave to enter UK by deception on or before 24 October 2004, conspiracy to defraud between 1 April 2008 and 30 September 2010, possession of 332,000 pounds of criminal property, removing criminal property from England and Wales and possessing articles for use in fraud.
Bhawna was convicted of being concerned in an arrangement to facilitate the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by Vijay Sorthia and others before 30 September 2010, removing criminal property from England and Wales and possessing articles for use in fraud
Sentencing the couple at Isleworth Crown Court, Judge Andrew McDowall said Sorthia’s actions risked ‘undermining’ Britain’s immigration controls and ‘eroding public confidence’ that migrants had arrived lawfully.
He warned: “During difficult economic times, it becomes easier for those who are motivated by racial motives to start casting aspersions against those that are properly and legitimately in the country by trying to paint everyone of that ethnic group as tainted in some way, over the wrongdoings done by a limited number.”