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Ringleader of Melbourne migration scam jailed for two years

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”Calculated and devious conspiracy of a large scale and duration” … Qi Zhou. Photo: Wayne Taylor

The head of a sophisticated migration scam which organised sham marriages and provided fake high scores for international students at Melbourne’s best universities has been jailed for two years. 

“This was a calculated and devious conspiracy of a large scale and duration, operating cleverly under the guise of a legitimate consultancy,” County Court judge Meryl Sexton told fake migration agent Qi Zhou on Tuesday.

“The effect of the conspiracy was to severely undermine the integrity of the migration legislation of this nation.”

Zhou, 47, of Kingsbury, pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to dishonestly influence a Commonwealth public official and one charge of having custody or control of material designed to make false documents. He was jailed for a total of four years and seven months with a minimum of two years.

Two other suspects fled Australia in 2009.

Judge Sexton said Zhou, who arrived in Australia from China in 2003, had set up Hong Yun International (HYI) which was advertised and promoted as a professional migration, legal and financial services consultancy offering clients, generally overseas students from China, a range of options to help them obtain visas or permanent residency in order to remain lawfully in Australia.

The judge said Zhou employed a number of people between 2006 and 2009 to assist him in running the Collins Street business and would charge fees to clients ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than $40,000.

A joint Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth Immigration Department investigation identified a number of staff at HYI had engaged in a range of “migration fraud” activities.

These activities included acting as migration agents and unlawfully collecting fees when not registered; large-scale production of false documents which were submitted to government agencies; and arranging sham marriages.

HYI would also create false tertiary qualifications for clients in return for a fee.

“Many of the clients were international students who were in Australia for the purpose of undertaking tertiary education at Victorian universities, but who had failed to obtain suitably high scores or who had dropped out of the courses altogether,” the judge said.

“You [Zhou] arranged for the importation of numerous false document templates, including university letterhead templates, which were used by HYI to provide forged documents to clients showing that they were still attending their course, or had graduated with high scores.”

When Federal Police raided the HYI office in December 2008 they found false document templates, including transcripts and certificates from the University of Melbourne, RMIT, Swinburne, Deakin and Monash universities.

Two-thirds of the 94 files found to contain fraudulent documentation revealed total fees paid by HYI clients amounted to at least $1,367,000. Investigators were unable to determine what fees were paid on the remaining files.

Judge Sexton said Zhou also set up a new business, Australia Brainpower International (ABI), for the creation and storage of false documents. The office was located in the same building as HYI but on a different floor.

Other clients were told that HYI could organise a fake de facto or marriage relationship to obtain Australian residency.

“This scheme involved matching new clients with existing clients who were already eligible to qualify for a permanent Australian residency visa,” the judge said.

Another service provided by HYI was for clients who feared having their study visas cancelled because they were failing or not attending their courses.

Zhou would arrange for fraudulent enrolment at an alternative education institution, ensuring that the client was able to maintain a valid study visa.

Judge Sexton said that in order to create the appearance of a legitimate migration service, Zhou employed registered migration agents on a part-time basis ostensibly to provide immigration assistance to HYI clients.

“In reality, the migration agents rarely dealt with clients, and their names and details were used to facilitate the migration frauds, with or without their involvement or knowledge.”

No migration agent had been charged over the conspiracy.

Read more here.