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SRA moved 'at snail's pace' over sham marriages solicitor

13 September 2010

The SRA was warned in 2007 that Michael Adelasoye, the solicitor jailed for his part in the UK’s biggest ever sham marriages scam, had been sacked by his firm for gross misconduct relating to attempted mortgage fraud, Solicitors Journal has learned.

Adelasoye, jailed for four years last week for conspiring to breach immigration laws, helped Church of England vicar Alex Brown carry out 360 weddings between illegal immigrants and EU citizens at his church in St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, between July 2005 and July 2009.

Robert Hamilton, director of Cooper Carter Claremont in Hailsham, Sussex, said the firm employed Adelasoye as an immigration solicitor for around two years before his dismissal for gross misconduct in November 2007.

Hamilton said Adelasoye had quoted a salary of £78,000 instead of the true figure of £25,000 on a remortgage application form, and forged the signature of the firm’s practice manager confirming the amount. The application was turned down.

Following Adelasoye’s departure, Hamilton said the firm wrote to the SRA on 12 November 2007, in accordance with the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct.

“Having made a decision to report him, months and months went by without any acknowledgement from the SRA and it was well into the next year before anything was done,” Hamilton said.

“It is an absolute fact that the SRA was very slow off the mark and this was dealt with at a snail’s pace.”

Hamilton said the firm wrote to the SRA again on 18 December 2007, but when a colleague contacted the SRA by phone on 12 March 2008, the organisation said it had no record of the matter.

He said that it was not until 3 April 2008 that the SRA wrote confirming that a file had been opened. A caseworker wrote to the firm for the first time the following month and on 26 May 2008 asked for written statements.

However, it was not until 19 February 2009 that the SRA said it would refer the matter to an adjudicator. The following month Adelasoye was referred to the SDT to answer allegations that he had on two occasions submitted a false mortgage form to lenders.

No conditions were put on Adelasoye’s PC until January 2010, a few months before his trial for immigration offences.

“Like other firms, we have sometimes been on the receiving end of petty referrals from clients,” Hamilton said. “We are told by the SRA in these cases to reply within seven days, and it is only with difficulty that we can get an extension.”

It was reported during the trial that Adelasoye’s clients, mainly failed male asylum seekers from Africa, paid up to £15,000 for a fake wedding, often with an East European, to obtain permanent residency in the UK.

Adelasoye, pastor of an evangelical church in Hastings, denied knowing the marriages were false and told the court he had “a lot of respect for the sanctity of marriage”.

After his dismissal from Cooper Carter Claremont, Adelasoye joined Ark of Hope Consulting solicitors in Hastings, later becoming the firm’s principal.

Ken Goss, from the CPS south east complex casework unit, said Adelasoye was involved in “a carefully planned, massive immigration fraud - as far as we know, it was the largest sham marriages scam that we have prosecuted”.

Goss said everyone involved “was aware of each of their roles and that what they were doing was unlawful”.

A spokesman for the SRA said Adelasoye “preyed on vulnerable migrant workers and contributed to a scam designed to mislead the Home Office”.

He went on: “The fact of his conviction will be added to the allegations to be placed before the tribunal. In the mean time, the fact of his imprisonment means he is unable to practise as a solicitor.”

The SRA added that it could not comment further since the case was at the SDT.

Categorised in:

Marriage & Civil partnership Procedures Costs EU & International