Riyadh arrests over 120 people for fake Covid Green Passes

The document proving vaccination, a negative test or recovery from Covid-19 is a prerequisite for participating in the Hajjr pilgrimage, and to enter public and private places. The arrested include officials of the Saudi Ministry of Health. To date, 21 million doses of the vaccine have been administered. 



Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Saudi authorities have arrested more than 120 people, suspected of "providing or procuring" fake Green Pass vaccines or negative Covid-19 tests, in order to gain access to public buildings or participate in the Hajj, the major pilgrimage scheduled in the coming days. According to the State News Agency Spa, the people arrested include nine officials of the Ministry of Health, who have already declared their guilt. 

Due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic of the new coronavirus, 60,000 Muslim believers with residence in the Wahhabi kingdom are admitted to the event this year. In addition to this, a certificate of vaccination - complete with both doses - or a negative swab carried out in the two days prior to participation, as well as proof of recovery, is required. 

The suspicion is that the suspects used social media to advertise their services and produce fraudulent certificates. These include changing the infection status, vaccination status and the administration of one or two doses of the vaccine. At least 21 people - nine Saudis and 12 with residence permits - are accused of acting as intermediaries in the fraud. 

Those who used the illicit services include 76 Saudi citizens and 16 residents. Earlier this month, the authorities confirmed the opening of an investigation involving two officials of the Ministry of Health, who were arrested in connection with fraudulent activity aimed at illegally altering data on the coronavirus.

 21 million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far in Saudi Arabia, a nation of about 34 million people. The total number of infections has exceeded 504,000 (more than 1,200 in the last 24 hours), with a total of 8,020 deaths (14 in the latest bulletin). In May, the authorities introduced the anti-Covid vaccination as a mandatory prerequisite for access to many public and private places, including transport. In addition, only employees (public and private) who have received the immunisation will be allowed to return to work. 

The Hajj is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and every good Muslim should do it at least once in his life.  Saudi Arabia has often politically exploited permission to reach Mecca; for years the Syrians have been forbidden to travel to the Muslim holy city.

The crisis between Riyadh (Sunni) and Tehran (Shiite), still in progress between the two great regional powers, in 2016 effectively blocked the journeys of Iranian citizens to the kingdom.  In the past, Riyadh's leadership was targeted by some imams who claimed the Saudi government used money from religious tourism to finance Islamic terrorism.