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Husband and wife from Whetstone deported and jailed respectively over sham marriage organised by Borehamwood resident at Barnet Registry Office
Left to right: Mourad Nabil, the fixer; Zakaria Azzouzi, the groom; and Petra Tatalova, the bride, outside St Albans Crown Court
A slim, attractive Slovakian events manager was jailed and her balding Moroccan student husband was told he would be deported after they were convicted of having a sham marriage.
Petra Tatalova, 32, and Zakaria Azzouzi, who is eight years younger, married at Barnet Registry office in North London on March 9, 2011, after memorising facts about each other on a crib sheet.
The marriage allowed Azzouzi to remain in the UK after his visa expired because his bride was an EU citizen, St Albans crown court was told.
The couple got away with it until police arrested wedding fixer Moroccan Mourad Nabil, 43, in November 2011. The crib sheets were discovered at his home in Borehamwood.
On the bridegroom's sheet were Tatalova's date of birth, her star sign of Scorpio and the fact she had worked in the UK for ten years and was an events manager in Moorgate.
On the bride's sheet were: Azzouzi's date of birth and that he had been studying to learn English at a college in New Oxford Street since June 2010.
It also stated that the couple met in June 2010 in a coffee shop in Oxford Street and moved in together that September.
During a 16-day trial, the couple sat in the court dock separated by Nabil, who was placed between them.
Judge Stephen Gullick said it was clear to him that Nabil had exercised a "Svengali-like malign influence" over Tatalova by getting her to agree to marry Azzouzi.
He sentenced Tatalova to 12 months and Azzouzi to 21 months in jail. Azzouzi will be deported immediately because of the length of time he has spent in custody and on an electronic tag, which amounted to an equivalent sentence of 616 days.
Nabil, who had earlier been convicted of an £18,502 housing benefit fraud over a three-to-four year period, was sentenced to a total of two years in prison.
During the trial, prosecutor Laura Blackband told the jury the three defendants went to Barnet Registry Office on February 8, 2011, to book a ceremony and answer questions, aimed at establishing that the marriage was genuine.
Nabil said he was there to act as an interpreter for the bridegroom. The couple were able to convince the officials and a licence was granted - until the crib sheets were discovered.
But Ms Blackband told the court the ceremony was a "sham, bogus marriage" and the fixer was Mr Nabil.
"Mr Nabil was known to Mr Azzouzi. They both come from Morocco. Mr Azzouzi's mother organised with Mr Nabil that he would secure a fake marriage so he could stay here as the husband of an EU national. It was an entire put-up job planned for Mr Azzouzi to stay in this country when his visa ran out in May 2011," said Ms Blackband.
She said Tatalova came to the UK in 2000 from Slovakia and, as an EU National, was entitled to stay. She had previously been in a relationship with Nabil.
When Nabil was questioned, he told the officers he had been "intimate" with Ms Tatalova five or six years earlier. He said she had introduced the younger man to him as her boyfriend and told the police he did not get on with him.
He maintained it was a genuine marriage and he did not organise it.
Ms Blackband said: "He accepted they were an odd couple. Mr Azzouzi was eight years younger and a Muslim from Morocco and she was a Christian from Slovakia. He said it was a genuine marriage and that he had assisted with the preparations because Mr Azzouzi had a terrible memory."
Tatalova told police she met Azzouzi in a coffee shop in the West End and that he had proposed to her on her birthday.
He sent her a card with the words: "Will you marry me?" written inside. She also said it was a genuine marriage, but said he had "upped and gone" and she did not know that he had gone to Manchester.
Azzouzi, now 24, had been arrested in Manchester for an unrelated offence on November 5, 2011.
When questioned, he stuck with the story about meeting his bride in a coffee shop, but once he was shown the seized crib sheet, he confessed it was a sham marriage.
Tatalova, of High Road, Whetstone; Azzouzi, whose address in court was High Road, Whetstone; and Nabil, of Stretton Way, Borehamwood, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to breach immigration laws by arranging a bogus marriage.
The jury of three men and eight women found all three guilty.
An earlier trial began on December 3, 2012, but it was stopped on December 13, 2012, when the Home Secretary refused a visa from Morroco to Azzousi's mother, who had been called as a defence witness, from entering the country. She was allowed into the country for the current trial.
Robin Griffiths, representing Azzouzi, said: "He is concerned to return as soon as possible to the country from whence he came."
For Nabil, Michael Field said: "It was not a commercial transaction. These three people were in some sort of relationship before the marriage."
He said the benefit claim against Hertsmere Borough Council had not started fraudulently and that Nabil had suffered serious mental illness.
Ian Doughty, for Tatalova, said: "It is a sad and desperate case for her. There was no gain in financial terms. The only explanation is that it was a misguided attempt by Miss Tatalova to assist. She paid the wedding expenses. She is ashamed to be here and is ashamed by the finding of the jury. She has always worked and never claimed benefit."
He said she was of previous good character and there was no risk of her reoffending.
Sentencing them, the judge said: "The sole purpose of the sham marriage was to allow Azzouzi to remain in the UK through his marriage to an EU national. This was a family-organised wedding orchestrated by Nabil."
He told Tatalova: "Why you became involved only you know. You have put all you have achieved in complete jeopardy by agreeing to go through this sham marriage. "
Paul Whitehead, from the Home Office's criminal and financial investigations team, said: "Our discovery of the crib sheet was crucial to the investigation, blowing a hole in any claims to credibility that the defendants may have had. Couples who are in genuine relationships do not need aide-memoires to help them recall their partner's age, address and even name.
"I hope these convictions demonstrate that our sham marriage investigations do not start and finish with the bride and groom. Our main aim is to identify the organisers who profit from - and fuel the demand for - sham marriages, destroy their criminal business and put them behind bars."
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