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false documents Irish crime gang 'Rathkeale Rovers' selling forged Covid-19 test results to European travellers, Europol warns

The EU’s law enforcement agency has warned that the ‘Rathkeale Rovers’ crime group is involved in using a mobile application which allows the gang to manually falsify test results.

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Several countries now require passengers to produce evidence of a negative test before being granted entry, which has created an opportunity for forgery gangs. Photo: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Several countries now require passengers to produce evidence of a negative test before being granted entry, which has created an opportunity for forgery gangs. Photo: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Several countries now require passengers to produce evidence of a negative test before being granted entry, which has created an opportunity for forgery gangs. Photo: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

A major Irish crime network has been identified as forging Covid-19 test results and selling the false documents across Europe.

The EU’s law enforcement agency has warned that the ‘Rathkeale Rovers’ crime group is involved in using a mobile application which allows the gang to manually falsify test results.

So far there has been evidence of different fraudsters using airports and other travel hubs in Europe to sell bogus Covid-19 results at prices of up to €300.

It comes as several countries impose restrictions which require passengers to produce evidence of a negative test before being granted entry.

Today Europol said it had received intelligence “on the alleged use of a mobile application by the Rathkeale Rovers Mobile Organised Crime Group”.

This, they said, “allows members of the organised crime group to manually falsify test results”.

The Rathkeale Rovers, who originate from the Limerick town of the same name, have been a target for European and international police forces for decades and were previously investigated for their involvement in the large-scale theft of rhino horns.

They are predominately based in Britain but are believed to have links across Europe and the US.

The Rathkeale Rovers were previously the prime targets of one of Europol’s largest ever investigations involving other international agencies.

In total, 31 members of the gang were arrested with 69 cases linked to the theft of rhino horns being identified under Operation Oakleaf.

In 2016 several members of the gang were also jailed in the UK over the theft of €73m worth of jade and rhino horn artefacts in England.

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In its warning today, Europol said that the use of fake Covid-19 tests also confirms that criminals are seizing on profitable opportunities once they arise.

“As long as travel restrictions remain in place due to the Covid-19 situation, it is highly likely that production and sales of fake test certificates will prevail.

“Given the widespread technological means available, in the form of high-quality printers and different software, fraudsters are able to produce high-quality counterfeit, forged or fake documents,” the EU law enforcement agency said.

In recent weeks there have been a number of arrests in different countries over the alleged selling of forged Covid-19 test results.

Europol has said there is evidence of people paying up to €300 for a false Covid test certificate in France.

They have identified a forgery ring selling negative results to passengers at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, which ranged between €150 and €300.

Separately, in Britain fraudsters have been caught selling bogus documents for £100, while the Spanish National Police arrested a man selling fake test results for €40.

In the Netherlands, scammers were discovered selling fake negative test statements for €60 through messaging apps.

“Member States are encouraged to share any relevant information on criminal activities related to fake Covid-19 test documentation with Europol,” it warned.

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