FOUR Malaysian nationals arrested at a Ballybofey Chinese takeaway were living in Donegal illegally.
One of them later gave a false name to Gardaí who managed to discover she left Malaysia 14 years ago after a conviction for breaking into a house.
The details of the case emerged during a court case where all four pleaded guilty to failing to register with the authorities in the State.
Mei Ling Chen, 56, from the Lee Ho Chinese in Navenny Street, Ballybofey, was in fact Toh Kim Lia, 54, Detective Sergeant Stephen McGonagle told Letterkenny District Court.
“We still don’t know how she entered the country. She says she arrived here in a container 20 years ago but we’ve spoken to Malaysian police and she has a conviction there 14 years ago for what was described as ‘housebreaking’,” said DS McGonagle.
The charges arose after a search under the Drugs Act on January 21 this year. All four are facing other charges.
DS McGonagle said offices had established that couple Ching Am Low and Li Jiuan Choog flew into Heathrow with a child on October 29, 2012 as visitors to the UK which allowed them to stay for six months. They had flown on to Belfast City Airport after their arrival in London.
They were joined my Ms Choog’s mother Sam Pohs Ooi who is 61.
All were working here illegally.
Solicitor Frank Dorrian said the couple had flown to Britain from Kuala Lumpar; they paid 2,500 sterling for the flights and through circumstances had ended up in Co Donegal.
“They were economic refugees from their own country; they found their situation in Europe worsened due to unreliable parties in the UK and quickly discovered – like a lot of Irish people who have gone overseas – that the streets weren’t paved with gold,” he said.
“They found themselves beholding to others under circumstances where they are not entitled to any kind of social welfare and they lived an unhappy existence under a cloud of fear, fear of detection. They were unable to save any money.
“Effectively they were here at a substance level. This was a crime driven by much more laudable ambitions,” said Mr Dorrian.
Solicitor Patsy Gallagher, representing Sam Pohs Ooi, told Judge Paul Kelly: “This lady found herself in an alien country and in alien culture. She is a very pleasant woman who was here to help her child, her son in law and their grandchild. She is a little lost in the whole case.”
He said Toh had found herself working underground in takeaways in Donegal.
He said she also denied having any convictions on Malaysia.
All four, who are in custody, were given seven days in prison for entering Ireland illegally.