'Maria' mystery lifts lid on bumbling Greek state

Wed Oct 23, 2013 12:46pm EDT
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By Karolina Tagaris

LARISSA, Greece (Reuters) - She has two identities and lived off thousands of euros a month in child benefits for nearly a dozen offspring that appear to exist only on paper, and but for one little girl would have continued the fraud Greek police say she perpetrated for two decades.

The girl is Maria, or the "blonde angel without an identity" as she has come to be known, and the woman is a 40-year-old Roma who claimed to be her mother but has been charged, along with her 39-year-old partner, with the girl's abduction.

The mystery surrounding Maria's real identity since she was discovered peeking out from under a blanket at a Roma settlement in central Greece has made headlines across the world and prompted a global search for her biological parents.

And in a debt-laden country eager to show foreign lenders it is reforming its state apparatus, the case has lifted the lid on a bumbling bureaucracy and patchy system of controls that allowed the girl to slip through the cracks.

So deep are the cracks in the country's birth registration system that it was "pure luck" that Maria's case was uncovered at all, said Konstantinos Tzanakoulis, mayor of Larissa, the provincial capital of the region where Maria was found.

"Who knows how many such cases exist?" he asked, blaming a system he said was riddled with loopholes. "We may never know."

After Maria's discovery, police found that her purported mother had registered one ID card and six children in Larissa, starting from 1993. In nearby Trikala, using a fake identity, she registered four more.

A few dozen kilometers away in Farsala, which houses the Roma camp, her partner registered another four children. Police say at least 10 children registered by the couple are unaccounted for and may not exist.   Continued...

Forty year-old Roma woman by the name Selini Sali or Eleftheria Dimolpoulou, 39 year-old Roma man by the name Christos Salis (R) and a girl found living with them in central Greece, are seen in a handout photo distributed by the Greek police and obtained by Reuters October 21, 2013. REUTERS/Greek Police/Handout