It looked like the kind of hi-tech kit you’d find in a James Bond movie—a shirt with tiny buttonhole cameras sewn in, a microphone and a small earpiece.
Yet this was no spy film but part of sophisticated scam to help Chinese immigrants cheat their ‘Britishness’ exams and stay in the UK.
Chinese husband and wife team Steven Lee and Rong Yang would give the equipment to fellow countrymen and sit in a car outside transmitting the test answers via radio airwaves.
The scheming couple, who were paid £1,000 for each test pass, were rumbled in March when a member of the public walked past their flash BMW 3 series, saw wires coming out from under the bonnet into the car and called police.
Baffled officers found the wires led to laptops, radio transmitters and other surveillance equipment in the car and suspected that the pair were involved in cash machine fraud.
Lee, 36, and Yang, 28, claimed that they were using the top-of-the-range gear—worth thousands of pounds—to watch Chinese TV channels.
It was only when another Chinese man, En Zhuang, arrived at the scene outside Wimbledon library in south west London that the scam was exposed.
He told police that he had been in the middle of taking his immigration ‘knowledge of life’ test when Lee and Yang told him that officers were searching the car and ordered him to dump the shirt, microphone and earpiece.
Zhuang, who had £1,000 with him, left the kit at a nearby shop before returning to the car.
He explained to police in interview that the pair would help the person taking the exam—who may be unable to speak, read or write English. This would involve directing them via the earpiece to move their body so the camera could view the exam paper.
This would then be transmitted back to Lee and Yang who would tell the person taking the test which box to tick.
The couple, both British citizens who live in a £600,000 home in Redhill, Surrey, have made a fortune from the racket and detectives suspect they may be involved in other immigration scams.
It is believed to be the first court case of its kind though police think the scam could be rife across the country.
Once it had been established that the pair were cheating the immigration system, the case was passed to the Metropolitan police’s Operation Swale—a dedicated team of officers who work with the Borders and Immigration Agency to tackle immigration crime.
Lee and Yang were sentenced to eight months in prison at Kingston Crown court this week for three counts of facilitating a breach of immigration law.
Zhuang and 52-year-old Ka Hung Pang, who was in the car when police arrived and had taken his immigration test earlier that day, were sentenced to 180 hours community work for deception in seeking leave to remain in the UK.
Sergeant Dominic Washington, who first responded to the call from the public, said: ‘Lee and Yang were clearly involved in a sophisticated operation using some of the best surveillance technology available worth thousands of pounds.
‘When we first arrived at the scene it was very confusing as to what exactly was going on.
‘However, working with colleagues from across the borough and the Met we believe that we have uncovered an established criminal enterprise that may be in operation in other parts of the country.
‘We will now be educating colleagues about this type of crime, and hopefully it’s raised profile and extra vigilance from police will deter others from getting involved.
‘It also appears to be highly profitable and we are now using the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize substantial amount of assets from Lee and Yang.’