A former Irish Catholic priest appeared in court this week over a probe into sham marriages in Northern Ireland.

Cleric Pat Buckley appeared in court on Tuesday, alongside 15 others in relation to the investigation into bogus marriages, money laundering and fraud.

Buckley is accused of conducting wedding ceremonies that enabled foreign nationals to stay in the UK. The 49-year-old was suspended as a Catholic priest in 1986 and excommunicated in 1998 following his unlawful ordination as a bishop, the BBC reports.

Speaking out against the claims, he said the decision to prosecute him was "an attempt by the establishment to silence a priest who has been the champion of the marginalised for 36 years".

The former priest has been charged with conspiracy to defraud the Home Secretary by facilitating foreign nationals to gain entry to the UK on dates between January 2004 and September 2009, according to the Belfast Telegraph.


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Following his brief court appearance on Tuesday he told the Belfast Telegraph the prosecution against him was "reprehensible and dubious".

"The decision by the PSNI and PPS to prosecute me is groundless and highly suspect and represents an attempt by the establishment to silence a priest who has been the champion of the marginalized for 36 years," he said.

He said he is committed to defending the case and that "those responsible for the dubious prosecution will be held to account by all legal means".

Concern has been growing recently over the increase in suspected bogus marriages across Northern Ireland.  Last month the UK Border Agency revealed that officials had broke up some 35 suspected sham marriages over the course of six months.

The case was adjourned until February 7.