Dozens of young Queensland women were paid thousands of dollars in cash to marry Indian men in an elaborate visa scam, a court has been told.

One woman said she earned up to $20,000 for marrying a man she’d never met and recruiting two friends to get married.

The accused organisers, Indian-born former migration agent Chetan Mohanlal Mashru and marriage celebrant Divya Krishne Gowda, both 35, appeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday for the first day of a committal hearing.

Seven young women told the court they were offered one-off cash sums of between $1000 and $5000 and ongoing payments of up to $250 a week to sign marriage documents partnering them with Indian men who were seeking spousal visas to live in Australia.

“When I signed the certificate I had $5000 given to me on that day,” said one witness who was married in 2011.

“I also got money every week from my partner.” The court heard many of the unions took place at a house at Oxley, in Brisbane’s southwest.

Investigators from the immigration department contacted up to 50 people who had been married by Gowda after the alleged scam was exposed in a newspaper article.

The department’s Robert Ansell said investigators found the same names appeared regularly on paperwork, tipping them off to what appeared to be an organised scheme.

None of those who were married are facing charges. Visa applications are on hold pending the outcome of court proceedings. Some of the brides said they suspected the marriage was unlawful but went ahead anyway.

“It was always in my mind that we may have been in trouble,” said Charlotte Marshall, who was paid $1500 upfront plus $1000 per month to get married.

Mashru and Gowda are each charged with 17 counts of arranging a marriage for a visa in 2011 and 2012.

Mashru is also charged with 23 counts of influencing a public official and 19 counts of delivering false information.

The hearing, before Magistrate John McGrath, continues.

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