A vicar has been charged with presiding over 492 fake marriages in 16 months – equivalent to one a day.
Reverend Nathan Ntege was arrested in June last year following an investigation into sham marriages by the UK Border Agency. The 53-year-old is accused of conducting a string of fake marriages at the St Jude's with St Aidan Church in Thornton Heath, south London, between December 2009 and March 2011.
Ntege has been charged with 14 immigration offences, including one offence of conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration and 13 charges of assisting illegal entry in relation to 492 marriages held at his church. It is believed the border agency's Criminal and Financial Investigation Unit started investigating after a tip off about the vast number of marriages conducted at the church. Ntege, who is originally from Uganda but lives in Croydon, appeared at Croydon Magistrates' Court on Wednesday along with his 79-year-old verger, Brian Miller, of Selsdon, south London, who faces the same charges.
The pair spoke only to confirm their names and were bailed ahead of a hearing at Croydon Crown Court on Friday. Gilena Petkova, 50, has also been charged in relation to the alleged offences. She is accused of being a 'fixer' for fake weddings and was allegedly married in a sham service. Petkova has been charged with conspiracy and five charges of assisting illegal entry and is due to appear at Camberwell Green JPs on February 7. Claire Holder, a lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service, said last week there was 'sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest' to prosecute the three.
Ntege was bailed on condition that he does not attend St Jude's, officiate at a religious building or service and or apply for travel documents. He was suspended by the Diocese of Southwark when he was arrested last year, pending the outcome of the case. In 2010 Reverend Alex Brown was jailed for conducting 360 fake weddings in Hastings in a case the CPS described as the 'biggest sham marriage case it had seen'.