Spain breaks up COVID passport forgery ring

·1 min read

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish police said on Tuesday they had detained seven suspected members of an international criminal gang that created and sold forged COVID-19 passports and negative tests.

The Spanish arm of the ring, which advertised its services on "anti-vax" instant message groups, fraudulently added at least 1,600 people to the national vaccination register with the help of health workers, the investigation found.

European Union countries agreed last year to create a standardized COVID certificate with a QR code so vaccinated and tested people could travel and attend events.

That created a demand for forgeries.

Police arrested six people in Madrid and one in Barcelona but did not provide further information on them.

They will be charged with document forgery and offences against public health. "The investigation continues into the possible theft of passwords to (the register)," the national police added in a statement.

The gang divided customers into two groups based on income and charged either 200 euros ($225) or 1,000 euros for a fake COVID vaccination certificate, which would be sent within two days of payment. A negative PCR test cost 50 euros.

Police are now investigating the 1,600 people added to the register fraudulently.

The organization's leaders operated from France where, unlike most of Spain, a vaccination passport is mandatory to enter public spaces like restaurants or movie theatres.

Spanish police passed all the information to French authorities.

($1 = 0.8860 euros)

(Reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Nathan Allen and Andrew Cawthorne)

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