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MARRIAGE

Fraudulent marriages to obtain residency spike in Spain

An increasing number of foreigners are attempting to gain residency in Spain through fake marriages of convenience that authorities can easily lift the lid on. 

Fraudulent marriages to obtain residency spike in Spain
Some foreigners are willing to take the risk of potentially being caught in a fraudulent in order for the benefits being married to an EU national can bring in Spain. (Photo by Ernesto BENAVIDES / AFP)

Any fan of 90s romcoms may be familiar with the film Green Card, which sees an undocumented French migrant in New York played by Gérard Depardieu marry an American (Andie McDowell) in order for him to have his slice of the American dream, only for them to predictably fall madly in love.

Here in Spain, marriages of convenience have seen an “exponential rise” in recent years according to the Central Unit of Illegal Immigration Networks and Fake Documents (Ucrif), and for those who get caught it’s no laughing matter. 

Faking a marriage or civil union isn’t generally classified as a crime in Spain, which means that the bogus couple are unlikely to end up behind bars, but it is still considered a fraudulent act that can carry fines of between €500 and €10,000, according article 53.2B of Spain’s migration law.

Nevertheless, in recent years an increasing number of non-EU citizens are striking deals with Spanish or other EU nationals in Spain as a surefire way of obtaining residency in the country and acquiring practically the same rights as a Spaniard. 

Individuals may be willing to accept the offer of a fake union, whether it’s to help a migrant out, for mutual convenience or financial gain.

But faking marriages or civil unions has now been absorbed as another illicit practice by criminal gangs in Spain’s major cities.

In 2020, Europol reported how Spanish National Police arrested 12 suspected members of a sham marriage network which facilitated illegal immigration into the EU by setting up partnerships of convenience.

The following year, a priest in Murcia was handed a 20-month prison sentence for carrying our at least 16 bogus weddings.

In February 2022, another gang was arrested in Catalonia for charging migrants for fake civil union partners.

Migrants usually pay between €3,000 and €7,000 for these illegal wedding agencies to find them a partner and to organise the union.

As civil partnerships (parejas de hecho) are generally simpler to carry out than marriages, this has been the preferred modus operandi, and may be one of the reasons why civil unions rose exponentially in Spain from a total of 1.6 million in 2018 to 1.8 million in 2020.

READ ALSO: Civil union or marriage in Spain: which one is better?

It’s not illegal for a non-resident third-country national to marry an EU resident in Spain and gain residency like this. 

And although love is not a prerequisite for such a union to take place, living under the same roof is.

If a Spanish civil servant suspects that the relationship isn’t real, they can contact police to conduct a check at the address provided, or an interview with the alleged couple. 

“When there are suspicions, interviews are carried out during which they ask you a lot of details about the other person, and if you don’t live with them, you don’t pass the test ,” migration lawyer Antonio Segura told La Vanguardia.

Despite the risk it can entail, some migrants without the residency documents needed to live and work without problems in Spain see the civil union as the fastest way to resolve their issues and take the risk anyway. 

“You have to put yourself in people’s situation,” Segura argues.

“I understand that it’s a mistake to fake a marriage but undocumented migrants can sometimes be here for years without documents, they’re scared of being stopped by police, they’re imprisoned in Spain and can’t fly back to see their families until they’re granted residency through years spent in Spain, they can’t work legally in Spain.”

READ ALSO: How can non-residents or new arrivals get married in Spain?

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TAX FRAUD

Spanish court orders Shakira to stand trial in tax fraud case

A Spanish court has ordered Colombian music superstar Shakira to stand trial in a tax fraud case at a date yet to be determined, court documents showed on Tuesday.

Spanish court orders Shakira to stand trial in tax fraud case

Prosecutors in Barcelona said in July they would seek a prison sentence of more than eight years against the singer and a fine of nearly €24 million ($24 million), after she rejected a plea deal over accusations of tax evasion.

They accuse the 45-year-old “Hips don’t Lie” songstress of defrauding the Spanish tax office of €14.5 million ($14.7 million) on income earned between 2012 and 2014.

Prosecutors say Shakira moved to Spain in 2011 when her relationship with FC Barcelona defender Gerard Pique became public but maintained official tax residency in the Bahamas until 2015.

The couple, who have two children, announced their separation in June. On September 19, a Barcelona court ordered the singer to stand trial for six tax crimes, according to a court ruling made public on Tuesday.

In an interview published in Elle magazine last week, Shakira said she was confident she had behaved correctly and did not owe the Spanish tax office anything.

“These accusations are false,” she said.

“While Gerard and I were dating, I was on a world tour. I spent more than 240 days outside Spain, so there was no way I qualified as a resident,” she added.

“The Spanish tax authorities saw that I was dating a Spanish citizen and started to salivate. It’s clear they wanted to go after that money no matter what.”

Shakira’s lawyers have said that until 2014 she earned most of her money from international tours, moved to Spain full time only in 2015 and has met all her tax obligations.

The singer says she has paid €17.2 million to Spanish tax authorities and has no outstanding debts.

She argues Spanish prosecutors are trying to claim money she earned during her international tour and from her participation on the show “The Voice”.

She was a judge on the show in the United States, when she says she was not yet resident in Spain.

A Barcelona court in May dismissed an appeal from the singer to drop the charges.

Shakira was named in one of the largest ever leaks of financial documents in October 2021, known as the “Pandora Papers”, among public figures linked to offshore assets.

With her mix of Latin and Arabic rhythms and rock influence, three-time Grammy winner Shakira scored major global hits with songs such as “Hips don’t Lie”, “Whenever, Wherever” and “Waka Waka”, the official song of the 2010 World Cup.

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