Dr Simon Heap and his wife Gladys Effa-Heap, a nurse, flew out to Nigeria and tried to dupe officials into believing a baby girl they wanted to bring back to the UK was theirs.
However, the Oxford pair were actually trying to illegally adopt the baby.
Dr Heap, a 47-year-old expert on Nigeria who works with companies trying to forge international trade links, and his 52-year-old partner claimed she had given birth just days after landing in the African country.The ruse included producing a birth certificate which suspicious British High Commission staff examined and found to be fake.
Officials requested DNA testing of the baby girl and the couple which proved she was not biologically theirs.
The pair then left the baby in Nigeria and flew back to the UK, sparking an investigation into the baby smuggling.
Today the couple were convicted of breaching immigration law and handed 12 month prison sentences, suspended for 12 months.
They were also ordered to complete 250 hours of community service each by a judge at Isleworth Crown Court after admitting the offence, which took palce in July 2010.
A spokesman for the Border Force said: ‘A couple from Oxford have been convicted of attempting to pass off a Nigerian baby as their own so they could bring it back to the UK, following a joint Border Force and Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) investigation.
‘They later went to the British High Commission in Lagos where they applied for a British passport for the baby girl, claiming Mrs Effa-Heap had given birth within days of them arriving in Nigeria.
‘However, staff became suspicious and DNA tests later confirmed that neither adult was related to the child. A birth certificate they had presented was also found to be fraudulent. They flew home without the baby.’
Following an investigation, officers from Operation Paladin, a specialist Border Force and MPS team tasked with safeguarding children, they were arrested and charged with facilitating a breach of immigration law.
Marc Owen, head of Border Force at Heathrow, said: ‘This was a shocking case where a couple attempted to pass someone else’s baby off as their own in an attempt to bring it to the UK.
‘Thanks to the close co-operation between Border Force, the Metropolitan Police and staff at the British High Commission they were stopped and we were able to bring them to justice.’
Detective Inspector Kate Bridger, who leads the Paladin team, said: ‘A child should not be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold.
‘This couple attempted to circumvent the adoption system and deceive the authorities.
‘That system is in place to protect children and we will do all we can to bring to justice those who try and get round it in this kind of way.’
Dr Heap was awarded the first Britain – Nigeria Educational Trust Commonwealth Fellowship at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.
The Cambridge University graduate has also held the post of Global Research Portfolio Coordinator at Plan International, an NGO working to improve the lives of children in 66 countries around the world.
He was also awarded the Kirk-Greene Junior Research Fellow in Tropical African Studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and now works at forging trade relations between Nigeria and Japan.
His wife is a registered and published nurse who has specialist interests in HIV and AIDS, blood transfusions and teenager pregnancy and intimate behaviour.