Authorities in Greece say they have smashed a €500,000 baby-smuggling crime network accused of selling eggs or the babies of vulnerable Bulgarian women.
A long-running investigation by Hellenic Police and Europol led to the immediate arrest of 12 people on Wednesday, while inquiries continue into the role of up to 66 people in the alleged network.
Among them are a lawyer, an obstetrician-gynecologist, employees of private fertility reproduction clinics and two women already imprisoned for similar offences.
Prosecutors say the ring, active since 2016, recruited vulnerable pregnant women from Bulgaria. The group allegedly transported them to Thessaloniki where they were placed under medical observation and sent to private hospitals to deliver their children.
“The newborns were then illegally adopted for between €25,000 and €28,000 each,” Europol said. “The fees included paying the biological mother, all legal expenses, hospitalisation, delivery itself and the members of the criminal group. Some of the mothers brought to Greece were also used as surrogates.”
The same group is also accused of selling eggs from women, including some from Greece but mainly from Bulgaria, Georgia and Russia. The women were taken to Thessaloniki to undergo a series of fertility treatments to increase the number of ova.
Thessaloniki Security Director, Antonis Tzitzis, told a news conference that 22 cases of illegal adoptions and 24 cases of women’s eggs being for cash were uncovered.
He said the payments were thought to come from childless Greek couples, and covered the costs of childbirth and hospitalization and pf lawyers involved in the adoption process. The biological mother's “pay” ranged from €4,000 to €5,000.
The foster parents have not been prosecuted, nor are they in danger of being forced to return the children, he added.
The arrested suspects are due to testify to investigators on Friday and Saturday.