What Are The Cleverest Scams You Have Come Across? Episode III
Criminal gang staged British citizenship ceremony – including fake Home Secretary – to con Chinese tourists
For the group of Chinese immigrants, it was the proudest day of their lives.
They arrived at the imposing Central Methodist Hall in the heart of Westminster, yards from Parliament, for a ceremony that would make them British citizens.
Inside, a picture of the Queen hung on a wall beside a giant Union flag. There were immigration officials, security guards and an enthusiastic audience.
Between 15 and 20 Chinese watched as a man introduced as the Home Secretary gave a speech welcoming them to Britain. They swore an oath of loyalty and happily sang God Save the Queen.
Finally, they were handed their passports, visas and other documents.
Some may have been surprised to be asked to pay up to £20,000 to a law firm for the privilege of becoming British, but they had no reason to suspect anything was wrong.
Not until they tried to use their passports, at any rate.
For they were fakes, and the whole ceremony was staged by a gang of conmen, a court heard yesterday.
The ‘Home Secretary’, officials, guards and audience members were all actors. And they too had been conned, along with the film crew recording the event, and thought they were making a promotional video.
Jacqui Smith who was Home Secretary at the time the ceremony took place. However the gang used a male Home Secretary to con the Chinese immigrants
Details of the December 2007 ceremony were revealed at the Southwark Crown Court trial of Xiang Li, who collected thousands of pounds in cash from the grateful new Britons.
Li, 29, from Stratford, East London, has admitted playing a part in the ceremony.
He has pleaded guilty to money laundering, two counts of assisting unlawful entry into a member state of the EU and two of fraud by misrepresentation.
But he denies a third count of assisting entry and one of fraud in relation to a migrant who did not attend the ceremony but was charged £10,000 in exchange for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in Britain.
Simon Clarke, prosecuting, said the gang had set up two bogus law firms, called Lombards and Borough de Law, and advertised in the Chinese language press in the UK.
People who attended their rented offices in Lombard Street, close to the Bank of England, were given a presentation and asked for a deposit of up to £2,000.
In the months that followed they received confirmation that their citizenship applications had been successful and were invited to the Westminster ceremony.
Mr Clarke told the jury: ‘It’s difficult to imagine a more high-profile venue in which to hold a British citizenship ceremony. From the main entrance of the central hall you can see the Houses of Parliament.
‘You can only imagine the impression left with those who have taken an oath of allegiance and received their documents at a ceremony at such a location.
‘Any foreign national new to citizenship would have no reason to doubt the authenticity of that ceremony. A new citizen would perhaps have been proud and honoured to have participated.
Mr Clarke read a statement from a migrant called Tan Li Huang, who said: ‘We sang the British national anthem and then we were made to swear an oath. The man in front then spoke many words which I did not understand. I think I have seen him on television.
‘We all clapped our hands, then they called our names. We went up to the male who had made the speech and I was given an envelope.’
The court heard that the alleged mastermind of the scam, the genius Tian Zhao, has never been caught.
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