An increasing number of Colombians are being lured into paying extortionate prices for new nationalities in ‘convenience marriages’ organized by illegal gang networks.
Examples of such marriages, becoming disturbingly commonplace across Colombia, involve individuals paying prices as high as 20 million pesos to illegal groups who, with the complicity of priests, offer unions for convenience purposes – with a ‘legitimate’ marriage the individual earns a much desired pass out of Colombia in exchange for a substantial sum.
Such unions however, often end in shattered dreams, loss of precious money and sometimes worse – as a recent case in the central Colombian department of Risaralda proved when a woman was murdered for failing to pay the 16 million peso fee for her arranged marriage.
Eisenhower D’Janon Zapata Valencia, magistrate in Risaralda informed newspaper El Espectador on Tuesday that the issue involves “a business put together by networks in Pereira, Panama, Spain and the Middle East.”
Since marriage is legal, it cannot be ranked in the lines of criminal fraud and thus, this phenomenon is difficult to monitor – a fact that the criminal organizations are eager to exploit.
Zapata further explained “the biggest problem is that victims [who pay the money but often never receive their new nationality] do not denounce the criminals for fear of threats.” In fact, the director of Risaralda’s intelligence agency confirmed that he did not know of research being conducted into any reported cases of convenience marriages.
The lack of reported cases contrasts with talk on the streets of local towns where it is common to hear of specialized networks dedicated to these arranged unions. Allegedly, when it is the criminal organization who orchestrates the deal, it is their responsibility to make sure both parties comply with the rules – if not, the story can come to a sticky end.
Little over a month ago, authorities brought down a network which, with the help of a Colombian priest, was charging up to 10,000 Euros for marrying Colombians to poor Spanish citizens. The Spanish citizens earned 4,000 Euros out of the deal.
Zapata claims police have disbanded nine networks so far this year.
Around 90 percent of these marriages occur unreported while 10 percent are thwarted by authorities and 1.5 percent end violently, claimed Carlos Mario Orozco, director of the CODHEC Human Rights Collective in Colombia’s coffee axis.
“It is very difficult to follow [the marriages] up because we cannot assign a detective to each case … but CODHEC is concerned because the phenomenon leads to violence,” concluded Orozco.