Spain detains 36 people for falsifying diplomas to get Spanish citizenship

Police in Spain detained 36 people who are alleged to have fraudulently obtained diplomas and certificates from the Cervantes Institute, the body that organises the tests applicants need to pass in order to get Spanish citizenship.

Spain detains 36 people for falsifying diplomas to get Spanish citizenship
Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP

They also identified 1,667 clients who paid the organisation between €1,000 and €4,500 to obtain false diplomas and certificates.

According to a report published by the police force on Friday, the criminal organisation, which was based in Barcelona, falsified the Cervantes Institute’s oral and written tests in order to obtain language and citizenship certificates.

These were then sold to foreign residents who needed the diplomas in order to apply for citizenship. 

Foreign residents must pass a language test (DELE) and a cultural knowledge multiple-choice exam (CCSE), in order to obtain Spanish nationality. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about getting Spanish citizenship

The arrests were carried out in an operation coordinated by Europol that took place simultaneously in Spain and the United Kingdom with the collaboration of the Spanish National Police and the British National Crime Agency (NCA).

One important figure in the network was arrested in the United Kingdom, while the rest – including the leader of the organisation – were detained in the province of Barcelona.

The police found €50,000 in cash and several laptops containing hundreds of false diplomas.

The forgeries were made in an academy that offered tests to obtain the DELE and CCSE. The results of these were falsified for foreign citizens who lacked the necessary knowledge to pass.

Most of the clients were from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. Of the 1,667 clients that were identified, about 1,380 would allegedly have obtained the DELE fraudulently.

The national police has been collaborating with the Cervantes Institute since 2018 on various different fraud cases relating to the DELE and CCSE certificates, which are issued officially by the institute under the mandate of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice.

In November 2020, the national police carried out an extensive operation in different provinces and arrested 25 people for impersonating legal foreign residents during their exams to obtain the DELE language certificate.

READ ALSO: Spanish citizenship test handbook riddled with ‘unfortunate’ errors

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How Barcelona is once again Spain’s pickpocket capital

The theft of a rucksack caught on camera during a TV interview has put the focus on the problem of thievery in the Catalan capital, a trend which has returned in full blast following the end of Covid-19 restrictions. 

How Barcelona is once again Spain's pickpocket capital

Anyone who’s visited or lived in Barcelona knows how important it is to keep an eye on one’s belongings, especially while on public transport or in the city centre. 

The metropolis of 5.6 million people is particularly notorious for being the pickpocketing capital of Spain.

Barcelona is in many senses a victim of its own popularity, with a study in July 2022 crowning it the most visited city in Europe this summer. 

One of the consequences of this is that Barcelona has become a goldmine for low-level criminals who not only exploit the abundance of distracted tourists exploring the city’s beautiful sights, but also the fact that Spanish law allows them to steal goods worth less than €400 and not face a prison sentence if caught.

The issue was encapsulated in near-scripted style when during a recent TV interview in which a tourist was singing the praises of the Catalan capital, a thief is seen in the background picking up a rucksack and walking away with it.

Between January and June of 2022, 36,386 hurtos took place in Barcelona, according to the Spanish government’s latest Crime Report

The word hurto in Spanish encompasses different non-violent forms of stealing other people’s property, from pickpocketing to stealing from shops or burglaries. 

This equates to 200 reported non-violent robberies a day in Barcelona.  

During the first three months of 2022, Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra wished to stress that the 17,000 non-violent robberies committed in Barcelona were “far” from the levels seen in 2019, before the pandemic’s lockdown as well as domestic and travel restrictions which resulted in fewer locals and tourists whom to rob in 2020 and 2021. 

They did however acknowledge that the data suggested that there was a return to “normality” vis-a-vis such felonies. 

As things stand, the 36,386 non-violent robberies recorded in the first half of 2022 are far lower than the 67,637 that were reported during the first six months of 2019, a record year for crime in the Catalan capital, as hurtos shot up by 40 percent compared to 2018 figures. 

But the rise has been even sharper in 2022, with a spike of 79.2 percent in the number of non-violent robberies during the first half of the year. When data for July and August is included in the next report, the increase could be even more dramatic.

Worryingly, the rate of violent crimes has also shot up by 41 percent. There have been reports in the Catalan press and videos shared online showing how organised gangs are now focusing on stealing jewellery and luxury watches from passers-by, violently yanking the items off the victims in broad daylight. 

As for burglaries, Barcelona is not the city with the highest rate of break-ins in Spain in 2022, according to Spanish insurance company Estamos Seguros, but it is the city where the value of the items stolen by burglars is on average highest. 

Pickpocketing remains the most common form of non-violent robbery in the Catalan capital however, with reoffending criminals unfazed by being apprehended by police. 

READ ALSO: How a crime wave in Barcelona is turning residents into citizen crime fighters

A change to Spain’s Criminal Code implemented in July 2022 which will see reoffending thieves who steal goods worth less than €400 stand before a judge may help quash such impunity.

It’s worth noting that non-violent robberies have increased by 51 percent on average across Spain in 2022, but Barcelona once again stands out as the city where pickpocketing and other forms of stealing is rife, higher than in other big cities such as Madrid and Valencia where non-violent theft is also an issue.