19 arrested in Bangladesh for fraud in bid for UK visas to attend Brick Lane Mela

PUBLISHED: 16:06 28 May 2012

Police have arrested 19 men in Bangladesh for alleged fraud who had applied for business visas to come to Britain for last week’s Brick Lane Mela festival, it has emerged.

It is the latest in a history of problems concerning work visas and allegations of “people trafficking” which has his hit the annual street festival that attracts 100,000 spectators to the East End every year.

The Bangladeshis were arrested on May 24 on fraud charges after visa applications were made at the British High Commission in Dhaka.

The police investigation involves allegations of forged documentation and false statements for applications to attend the Mela as stallholders, the High Commission said in a statement confirmed this week by the UK Border Agency.

Deputy High Commissioner Nick Low said: “We do not tolerate abuse of our immigration system and have a zero tolerance to fraud.”

Dhaka police working with UK Border Agency were said to have discovered applicants misrepresenting employment status and producing forged bank statements.

The allegations involve paying up to £10,000 each to agents to provide documents and get visa applications through.

The arrests have led to calls by Tower Hamlets councillors this week for the annual Mela to be taken back under council control.

Tory Group leader Peter Golds told the Advertiser: “The council took control four years ago because of concerns about trafficking people to London using the Mela to get permits.

“Now the festival has been handed out to contractors this year, we find the same concerns again.

“The Mela should be taken back by the council where there will be proper checks and audits.

“Why do we need work permits to get people from abroad to run stalls?”

The Town Hall took over its running in 2007 after allegations of “people trafficking” the year before, when UK immigration authorities granted dozens more work permits than organisers had stated.

The Foreign Office said at the time that the British High Commission in Dhaka received 62 work permit applications for the Mela, with officials having rejected 29 of them, many from artists wanting to perform.

At the time, the-then Bethnal Green MP George Galloway demanded an inquiry to determine whether the Mela has been abused to smuggle illegal immigrants into Britain.

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