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Police team focused solely on benefits fraud probe

The social benefits fraud racket is taking up the lion’s share of resources at the police Financial Crimes Investigations Department, with five of its seven inspectors assigned to this “massive” case around the clock, according to sources.

The FCID officers have so far compiled a list of nearly 600 people who have still to be called in for questioning as the police continue to comb through all 800 or so applicants who were awarded the benefit between 2019 and 2022.

The police are assessing how many of these were fraudulent claims. They have evidence that indicates family doctor and former Labour MP Silvio Grixti provided false medical certificates for people to receive benefits of around €450 a month that they were not entitled to.

Around 170 claimants who benefitted from the racket have already been arrested, interrogated and charged over the past few weeks and more are expected to be arraigned in the near future.

Most of them admitted their involvement during police questioning and pleaded guilty to fraud charges in court. They are being handed suspended jail sentences and ordered to refund the benefits money. Between them, they have defrauded taxpayers of more than €2.5 million, which are being paid back slowly, most of them in monthly €100 instalments.

The police are obtaining arrest warrants from the duty magistrate on a daily basis and are questioning about 30 to 40 people a day.

“Even though the police have been obtaining arrest warrants, they are treating the matter very delicately, knowing that the vast majority of the claimants are vulnerable people. Instead of arresting them at home or at work, they are calling them in to the FCID headquarters in Santa Venera by appointment,” a police source close to the investigation told Times of Malta.

“Upon arrival, they are informed of their arrest and informed of their right to remain silent, and their right to contact and have a lawyer of their choice present during the interrogation. Although, technically, they could be detained for up to 48 hours, most of them are out within an hour,” the source added.

The racket was revealed by Times of Malta two weeks ago. It had grown over the years, with hundreds of people claiming benefits for conditions they didn’t suffer from. The ‘severe disability’ of choice is understood to have been frequent epileptic fits.

Sources said the scam first came to attention when it was noticed that there were 17 cases of people receiving the benefit for epileptic fits but who were still in possession of a driver’s licence. People who suffer from frequent epileptic fits are not allowed to drive.

Grixti is alleged to have provided claimants with an envelope containing forged medical documents certifying them as suffering from one of the eligible conditions. The documents appeared to have been signed by several Maltese consultants who, when contacted by police, said they had never even seen the patients in question, let alone signed off the documents.

The envelopes even included a false Transport Malta declaration saying the claimant had surrendered his or her driver’s licence.

The claimants would then appear before a government medical board whose job it was to assess the validity of each claim. The claimants told police they were asked to hand over the envelope to the board during an interview that in some cases lasted just “five minutes”.

Some claimants told police they had been referred to Grixti by the Office of the Prime

Minister’s customer care wing or by ministers’ aides.

Last week, a police inspector testifying in one of the court cases said “suspicious medical certificates” had been found on Grixti’s laptop.

Times of Malta interviewed three of the illicit benefit recipients, including a man who said a Labour Party canvasser and a former minister’s aide lured him into the racket in return for his vote and a kickback amounting to a year’s worth of benefits.

One claimant, who was interrogated by the police last week, said Grixti had given her a sealed envelope and told her to take it to the Labour Office in Żejtun where she was told she would be contacted by the medical board.

She told police she did not know what the envelope contained and neither did she open it since she felt it was rude to do so once it was sealed by Grixti, who she trusted as her family doctor.