A Greek prosecutor has launched an urgent investigation into criminal organizations supplying fake vaccination certificates, both domestically and from neighboring states, mainly from Balkan countries. The probe comes as COVID-19 infections surge anew in Greece, mainly in the country's northern areas bordering the Balkans, where fake vaccination certificates have become a hot commodity.
It is shocking testimony like this one from a Greek woman who refuses to get vaccinated, that have authorities scrambling to catch scammers operating across this European Union nation.
Keeping her back to the camera and her identity hidden, she told a local television broadcaster she is desperately seeking dodgy doctors or health care staff to get a fake vaccination certificate at whatever the cost.
She has been calling up doctors in Athens, she said, explaining her refusal to participate in the government’s vaccination program and need, as she called it, to resort to such steps because she has no other means of operating freely in the country.
All health care officials she has contacted so far, she said, have refused her bids. They are scared.
Greece’s center-right government only recently ordered all health care staff, public and private, nationwide, to be vaccinated or face steep fines and job loss.
An investigation launched by Greece’s Division of Internal Affairs, an anticorruption unit within the police, however, has so far found at least 10 areas across the country, providing a deluge of fake certifications through questionable health care providers.
That could explain, experts told VOA, why COVID-19 infections here have rocketed in recent weeks, placing Greece, once a near-COVID-19-free country, now among the most infected within the EU, along with Belgium, Poland, Holland, Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria.
It is not just dodgy healthcare providers in Greece fanning the scam, though. Organized criminal networks, as authorities call them, are operating through the dark web, providing anti-vaccine Greeks with forged EU vaccine passes issued from Bulgaria for up to $350.
The dubbed voice of this middleman as released on state media here explains.
He said his links in Bulgaria notify him and he leads those interested up to the capital of Sofia, where they go to specific doctors, give their details, pay and leave with the European certificate without having been jabbed, adding that he alone has sent more than 100 people there.
Most certificates, investigators say, show recipients receiving the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is not traceable in laboratory tests.
The rise in fake vaccines certificates has dominated Greece’s north, areas that border Bulgaria, sending COVID-19 infection rates to record levels, straining the state health care system anew.
Demand for fake certificates has surged as the government in Athens has imposed sweeping restrictions, allowing only the vaccinated to enter state buildings, banks, restaurants and shopping centers.
Faced with what authorities call an epidemic of fake certificates, police have boosted inspections at the borders and imposed stiff fines of almost $6,000on those caught with them.
Apart from Greece, several other EU countries have seen a surge in similar illegal activities. Earlier this month, in fact, EU authorities launched a massive investigation after detecting the COVID-19 Digital Certificates gateway had been hacked.