Prosecutors in Greece order birth cert probe

Prosecutors across Greece were ordered yesterday to conduct emergency checks of birth records from the past six years, after the arrest of a Gypsy couple on suspicion of abducting a little girl triggered fears of widespread welfare fraud.

Prosecutors in Greece order birth cert probe

The girl, known as Maria, was found living with her alleged abductors at a Gypsy camp. The blond-haired, fair-skinned girl, believed to be aged 5 or 6, was spotted during a police raid last week because her features did not appear to match those of the couple looking after her. DNA tests showed they were not her biological parents as claimed on her birth certificate.

The Gypsy camp suspects, Eleftheria Dimopoulou, 40, and Christos Salis, 39, received more than €2,500 in monthly welfare payments after declaring they had 14 children, eight of whom are unaccounted for and presumed not to exist, authorities said. They were jailed on charges of abduction and document fraud.

They deny the abduction allegations, claiming they received Maria from a destitute woman to raise as their own.

A Supreme Court prosecutor ordered a review of thousands of birth certificates issued after Jan 1, 2008, amid growing criticism that the country’s birth registration system is open to abuse.

Up until five months ago, there was no central national registry, so births declared in different municipalities were not cross-checked.

“The case of the underage girl Maria does not appear to be an isolated one,” the order signed by prosecutor Efterpi Koutzamani said.

Benefit fraud has become a powerful issue in Greece, which is suffering through its sixth year of recession and has an unemployment rate of nearly 28%.

Police said Maria’s birth was falsely declared in Athens by Dimopoulou in 2009, but they did not elaborate. Her DNA has been entered into an Interpol database to check for matches.

On Monday, the mayor of Athens suspended three officials in charge of record- keeping after an emergency review revealed multiple instances of birth certificates issued without proper documentation.

In Dublin on Monday, police seized a young blonde girl from a Romanian Gypsy couple in a move spurred by the case in Greece. The couple said the 7-year-old child was theirs, but a Dublin maternity hospital they cited had no record of the birth. No arrests have been made.

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