On 29 January, Europol’s Operational Task Force (OTF) Limassol carried out an action day led by Cyprus, involving Latvia and Portugal, supported by Eurojust. The OTF targeted a criminal network facilitating illegal migration into the EU via sham marriages. The investigative activities suggest that the criminal network was also involved in human trafficking and money laundering activities, as well as forcing victims into bogus marriages for immigration purposes.
The investigation into this criminal network uncovered that the suspects allegedly recruited Latvian and Portuguese nationals and facilitated their journeys to Cyprus, where the women entered into arranged marriages with third-country nationals. The suspects, mainly Indian, Pakistani and Portuguese citizens, arranged all the logistics including the purchase of flight tickets and the acquisition of passports and other required documents.
The OTF’s activities led to the identification of a number of perpetrators, suspicious transactions and a total of 133 marriages of convenience between Portuguese and Latvian women, and Indian and Pakistani men. The marriages enabled the non-EU nationals to obtain residence permits from third countries, which they then used to travel to other European countries.
The sham marriage ceremonies took place in town halls around Aradippou, Livadia and Nicosia, Cyprus. The work of the OTF led to searches and arrests in Cyprus, including the arrest of two of the main organisers in Latvia and Portugal following European Arrest Warrants issued by the Cyprus.
The joint action day led to:
- 15 arrests (13 in Cyprus, 1 in Latvia and 1 in Portugal)
- 4 of which are High Value Targets (2 in Cyprus, 1 in Latvia and 1 in Portugal)
- Seizures including electronic equipment and documentation
Europol’s OTF Limassol was set up to facilitate the joint efforts of Cyprus, Latvia and Portugal into dismantling this criminal network dedicated to facilitating illegal immigration via sham marriages. Europol supported this OTF by facilitating information exchanges, coordinating and financing operational activities and providing tailored operational analytical support.
During the action day, Europol supported the field activities by crosschecking in real-time the operational information collected. Europol also provided operational analysis to help deliver possible leads to investigators on the ground.
Nine cases were opened at Eurojust between 2022 and 2024 to facilitate the execution of European Investigation Orders and European Arrest Warrants. Eurojust organised dedicated coordination meetings and facilitated the judicial cooperation between the authorities involved during the action day.