A barbecue at East Coast Park nearly four years ago was where two men hatched a plan that spawned a series of sham marriages between Singaporean men and Vietnamese women.
In all, 17 people were involved, including the mastermind, Jeremy Tan Chin Hock, and seven couples.
Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers began investigations into the syndicate in March last year after receiving a tip-off about one of the couples.
Assistant Superintendent Ong Teck Wee, 37, a lead investigator, told The Straits Times yesterday that a crucial part of the case was getting a confession from the first couple. After that, the officers were able to unravel the web of sham unions.
"The common factor is that they (the men) were all in need of money," he said. For instance, one of them, 45-year-old hotel employee Yap Yee Bin, had debts of about $10,000.
The men, aged between 23 and 45, received sums ranging from $800 to $4,500 for entering into the sham marriages.
TOUGH CASE TO CRACK
It was hard to uncover the overall narrative because different people might say different things. For marriage of convenience cases in general, especially a syndicated case, evidence is not as forthcoming as other immigration offences such as overstayers. It requires more effort to be able to unearth the evidence.
'' ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT MUHAMMAD IZZAT ABDUL RAHMAN, a lead prosecution officer on the case, on the challenge of gathering evidence.
As for the Vietnamese women, who were aged between 22 and 28, they paid Tan and his marriage brokers between $6,000 and $16,000 so they could continue to stay in Singapore.
On Jan 16 this year, Tan, 32, who is unemployed, was sentenced to 24 months' jail and fined $42,000 for offences under the Immigration Act. The sentence meted out to him was the stiffest after marriages of convenience (MOC) were criminalised in 2012.
Besides Tan, 11 others - six Singaporean men and five Vietnamese women - have been jailed for between six and 18 months.
The cases against two of Tan's alleged marriage brokers - Peter Mark Ng Jia Jun, 27, a private-hire car driver, and Nguyen Hoang Anh Thu "Jenny", 35, a nail salon owner - are before the courts.
As for the remaining three people, two women had left Singapore before investigations started, and one man was not charged due to a medical condition.
Court documents said that some time between October and November in 2014, Tan introduced Le Y Senl, 28, who sometimes worked as a hostess, to Alvin Quek Jun Rong at East Coast Park.
Tan told Quek, 27, who was unemployed, that he would be paid $800 if he entered into a marriage of convenience with Le. Quek would also have to sponsor Le's application for visit passes to extend her stay in Singapore.
Quek agreed and after entering the sham marriage, he went on to help Tan and the other two brokers arrange five sham marriages between February and April last year.
The couples did not live together, but were told to learn more about their spouses' backgrounds to avoid detection by enforcement agencies, said ICA officers who cracked the case. Tan even flew a man to Vietnam to better understand his potential wife's family background.
ASP Muhammad Izzat Abdul Rahman, 30, a lead prosecution officer on the case, said: "It was hard to uncover the overall narrative because different people might say different things.
"For MOC cases in general, especially a syndicated case, evidence is not as forthcoming as other immigration offences such as overstayers. It requires more effort to be able to unearth the evidence."
Syndicate members were among 53 people convicted last year of sham marriages - a 23 per cent rise from 43 in 2016.
ASP Izzat urged members of the public to do their part if they suspect something is amiss.