ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Prosecutors across Greece were ordered Tuesday 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.
The blond-haired, fair-skinned girl, known as Maria and believed to be 5 or 6, drew the attention of police during a raid on a Gypsy camp last week because she looked unlike the couple raising her. DNA tests showed they were not her biological parents as claimed on her birth certificate.
The mystery of the girl's identity has attracted the interest of investigators and parents involved in missing-child cases around the world. The case has also raised concern among human rights groups that Europe's Roma, or Gypsy, community is being unfairly targeted.
The Gypsy camp suspects, Eleftheria Dimopoulou, 40, and Christos Salis, 39, received more than 2,500 euros ($3,420) 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 wide open to abuse.
Families cheating the welfare system typically declare the same birth in multiple cities or produce false birth certificates for children who may not exist.
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.
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