A 55-year-old Hong Kong woman has been convicted of arranging bogus marriages for mainland Chinese and foreign domestic workers. The syndicate she represented set up fake marriages to Hong Kong men, and was the first of its kind to be busted by Hong Kong Immigration.

The defendant Chan Oi-fan, who was identified as the mastermind of the scheme, was convicted of four counts of conspiracy to defraud and one count of perverting the course of justice at the District Court on Friday, according to a government release.

The Immigration Department began an operation into the fake marriage ring in 2017 that resulted in the arrests of 37 people aged between 29 and 65. Those arrested included 22 Hong Kong residents, two from mainland China, nine female domestic workers from India and four female domestic workers from Nepal.

Assistant Immigration Director William Fung said the syndicate had arranged around 17 fake marriages and made around HK$2 million (US$255,000), Apple Daily reported.

Fung said that during the course of an investigation into a case of suspected bigamy,  a photo of the suspected mastermind was found on the the mobile phone of a mainlander under investigation. However the suspect was unable to provide any more details of the person in the photograph.

Through online research and site visits after carefully examining the photo, investigators successfully identified the mastermind, who worked as a security guard in a shopping mall in Kowloon.

The mastermind, Chan, with help from a friend who speaks Nepalese and Indian dialects, lured domestic workers into fake marriages with Hong Kong men, after which they could apply for residence as the dependents of their “husbands” and then become free to take up any employment in the city.

Chan’s customers each handed over between HK$40,000 and HK$150,000 (US$5,097 to US$19,114) for their fake marriages. Customers from mainland China reportedly paid HK$70,000.

Hong Kong men who played along as spouses in the bogus marriages received between HK$20,000 and HK$60,000.

The gang took pictures of the fake couples in various settings or in short-time hotels to use as proof of their relationship. They also made up love stories and asked the fake couples to memorize them in case they were interviewed by immigration officials.

In May 2017, Chan was arrested. A pile of documents relating to bogus marriages including copies of Hong Kong Identity Cards, mainland travel documents, foreign passports and transaction records were seized from her home.  A large amount of information on persons involved, including photographs and marriage certificates, was found on memory cards and mobile phones seized.

Chan will be sentenced on February 28.

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