MELBOURNE: An Indian-origin migration agent and his wife face up to 10 years in jail after being accused of running a visa scam in which clients paid for fake marriages to Australian women to enter the country. The agent and his wedding celebrant wife — Chetan Mohanlal Mashru and Divya Krishne Gowda — were accused of allegedly running visa racket, media reports here said.
Two days ago, Australian Federal Police arrested Mumbai-born Mashru and his Australia-born wife at their Oxley unit in Brisbane’s southwest. Both Mashru and Gowda face up to 10 years in jail and also 170,000 dollars each in fines. The pair, whose alleged racket was exposed by a Courier-Mail probe in April last year, faced a bail hearing in the Brisbane magistrates court on Wednesday. The court heard that over 30 men and women whose marriages were allegedly arranged by the couple were among the prosecution’s witnesses. Commonwealth prosecutor Aimee Aisthorpe opposed both bail applications, saying the accused ran an “organized and ongoing operation” from March 2011 to March 2012 and they charged between $10,000 and $20,000 for each marriage. Bank statements and marriage certificates were part of the evidence against the couple, the court heard. “
The defendant (Gawda) profited significantly from the offences …,” she said, adding “It’s difficult to comprehend a more serious offence of this type.” The court heard that the couple had no ties to the community and their property portfolio has been retained by the police. During the bail application for Gawda, Aisthorpe told the court the couple fled their Oxley home for India after they were questioned by a journalist in 2012 about the scam. “They left the day after they we’re confronted and were gone for six and a half months,” she said.
Mashru, a second year law student, did not renew his migration agent registration after it lapsed last year. Magistrate John McGrath later granted them bail on several conditions which included reporting to a local police station three times a week, not to come within 300 metre of an international departure point and not to contact the prosecution witnesses. Gawda was also instructed to surrender her passport while the police had already seized Mashru’s passport.
Mashru faces 17 counts of attempting to arrange marriage for visa application; 14 counts of fraud to influence visa applications and 18 offences under the commonwealth criminal code of dishonestly influencing a public official. Gawda has been charged with 17 counts of attempting to arrange a marriage for visa application. Their matters have been adjourned to the Commonwealth Callover Court in Brisbane on March 14.