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Yle investigation: Helsinki firm sold 70-euro fake Covid certifications

Police have not opened a probe into the matter which a criminal law professor said sounded like a case of forgery.

Kuvassa on testausvälineitä Helsingin Messukeskuksen drive-in-testauspisteellä lokakuussa 2020.
Covid-19 test samples, file photo. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

A Helsinki-based company has sold forged certificates that baselessly state the document's holder is Covid-free for international travel purposes, according to an Yle investigation.

Many countries require passengers to present proof they are Covid-free in order to board flights. Some domestic employers also require such proof from, for example, workers from abroad.

The firm has sold the certificates for 70 euros apiece, a significantly lower price than legitimate ones issued by private health care companies.

According to a source, several individuals have purchased the fake test certificates. Buyers have been issued the fake documents without being tested for Covid-19.

Currently public health care providers only carry out coronavirus tests on people with symptoms or who have been exposed, not for those with international travel plans

HUS, the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district has issued electronic versions of the negative test certificates since the end of February. Before that, the only other legitimate option for people was to pay up to 300 euros for a test and certificate from a private health firm.

Compared to many other European, prices for the test and document are relatively high in Finland.

Story continues after photo

Väärennetty koronatesti josta peitetty tiedot mustin palkein.
An apparently faked negative coronavirus test certificate. Image: Jutun lähteen ottama kuva

How it worked

Yle has seen what appears to be one of the forged certificates, which would likely appear authentic to laypeople.

The certificate was dated at the beginning of the year and includes the customer's name, documentation of a negative test result, a signature as well as the company's logo and contact information.

Yle interviewed the person who obtained, but did not purchase, the bogus certificate. The individual's name is not being revealed due to the sensitive nature of the topic.

The person said that information about the certificate firm circulated by word of mouth among acquaintances who shared the company's phone number with each other.

According to the source, the individual who purchased the fake certificate arranged the deal over the telephone, providing the company information for the document as well as agreeing on the price of the deal.

Then, the customer met a company representative at an agreed location where the certificate was exchanged for cash.

"There was not a word about a coronavirus test during the deal, so it is clearly a forgery. The company named on the certificate does not carry out [coronavirus] tests," the source said.

Reaching out

Since the matter was not under police investigation and the parties have not faced charges, Yle has not disclosed the firm's name or its representatives. However, the firm is not a known provider of coronavirus test certificates, but rather a newly-established, small company.

The firm has sold its wares on an English-language website that was shut down a couple of days before the publication of this article following a telephone call from Yle.

"Are you going on a trip to a destination where negative test result certificates are required?" the website read.

The Yle journalist, using a personal email address, sent a message to the firm in English inquiring about getting a negative test certificate for international travel. However, the company did not respond.

Yle's source said the firm's target group was non-Finnish speakers.

A telephone call to the firm by Yle reached a man who answered the phone in Finnish, however. Yle's journalist inquired about obtaining a negative coronavirus certificate due to an upcoming trip to Thailand, a country which requires such documents for entry.

The company representative explained the process, saying that an invitation to a testing point would be sent and that a certificate would be issued after the test result comes back.

The representative said the price was 170 euros. When asked why it was more expensive than friends had said, he explained the extra 100 euros was for the test's cost.

When asked for more information about the test site, the representative said the firm was cooperating with a Helsinki-based lab.

However, the man appeared to begin doubting the nature of the phone call and suddenly advised the journalist to get a test from the local hospital district.

Redirected

"I can tell you an easier way. HUS offers the certificates for free. When you go to Helsinki for the test you can get a stamped certificate as a PDF file," the representative said, explaining that the firm was issuing fewer certificates now that the district was offering ones for free.

He vowed to send details about the company's test site by email, but never did.

The Institute for Health and Welfare THL is in charge of infectious disease testing laboratories operating in the country, but had no information about the certificate firm. The firm was also not listed as having a private health care permit at the service provider registry Valveri.

Yle contacted the Regional State Administrative Agency of Southern Finland (Avi) to ask whether the company's activities were subject to a permit.

The answer was yes, according to Avi's chief regional administrative officer Mikko Valkonen.

"If a company subcontracts testing from another company, both should have the appropriate permits. If a company operates around those rules, it is criminal [activity], Valkonen explained.

"Wild case"

When it was still online, the company's website appeared to contain a good deal of false or misleading information regarding clients, small staff and partners. Despite several requests, the firm refused to share information about the identity of its employees.

There are suspicions that all of the healthcare professionals listed on the firm's site were fictitious and had nothing to do with the company.

Helsinki police inspector Ismo Siltamäki who heads the department's financial and fraud crimes division said that there was no firm currently being investigated that issues coronavirus certificates without carrying out tests.

"The case sounds wild. There has been discussion at the department that the certificates might be forged," he said.

Siltamäki said that no alternatives can be ruled out until the suspicion of a crime is confirmed.

According to Yle information, police have not opened an investigation into the matter.

Helsinki University criminal law professor Kimmo Nuotio said that if charges were to be brought against the firm, the described scenario would likely be handled in court as forgery or aggravated forgery.

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