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Board to assess disability benefits scheme, in wake of massive fraud

A three-person board led by retired judge Antonio Mizzi is to look into the way severe disability benefits are dished out, after Times of Malta exposed a racket running into millions of euro. 

The board of inquiry was announced on Saturday in a statement by the Social Policy Ministry. It was appointed by Social Policy Minister Michael Falzon and his permanent secretary Mark Musu'. 

The ministry said the board would be evaluating current benefit assessment processes to determine how they were bypassed and what can be done to improve them. 

It has been given five months to conclude its work, though it can request an extension if necessary, and its conclusions and recommendations will be made public. 

Mizzi, who will chair the board, will be aided by board members Anthony Scicluna and Raymond Muscat. 

Times of Malta revealed last week that police are investigating almost 800 people who received monthly cheques of €450 for severe disability after obtaining the benefits using falsified documents.

Judge Antonio Mizzi will lead the three-person board. Photo: Jonathan BorgJudge Antonio Mizzi will lead the three-person board. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Those documents were allegedly given to them by GP Silvio Grixti, who served as a Labour MP until he resigned in 2021. Grixti would allegedly give people an envelope containing falsified documents that they could use to apply for monthly benefits cheques.

Grixti, who has declined to comment about the allegations, has not yet been charged with any crime.  

A number of the recipients have told investigators that they were referred to Grixti by Labour MPs, ministers’ aides and customer care officials from the Prime Minister’s office.

Doctor and former MP Silvio Grixti was allegedly at the heart of the scheme. Photo: FacebookDoctor and former MP Silvio Grixti was allegedly at the heart of the scheme. Photo: Facebook

Prime Minister Robert Abela has claimed that Grixti was asked to resign as an MP back in 2021 when his office became aware of the allegations.

But the Social Policy Ministry, which is responsible for overseeing disability benefits, told Times of Malta that it only became aware of the allegations “last year”, when it detected suspected forgeries in documentation.

The police have so far confirmed that 141 recipients were fraudulently receiving benefits and ordered them to return €2.1 million. They have yet to process hundreds of other suspected cases. 

Times of Malta also reported on Saturday that former president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca has been pushing for benefits assessment systems to be reformed, to rebuild trust undermined by the widespread racket. 

The board of inquiry led by Mizzi will operate independently of the police investigation. Its terms of reference are: 

  • Determine what led to ineligible people being granted benefits for severe disability
  • Establish any administrative shortcomings or failings in the verification process for medical evaluations
  • Examine whether submission, evaluation and verification processes for such benefits are robust enough to prevent abuse
  • Recommend measures to strengthen systems by which benefits applications are assessed and determined