Malta
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Watch: 'No sitting MP involved in benefit fraud racket' - Robert Abela

No sitting Member of Parliament is involved in a racket linked to an ex-Labour MP that saw hundreds of people fraudulently receive disability benefits they were not entitled to, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Tuesday.

"I am convinced that no MP in any way participated, or directed someone to commit irregularities," Abela said on Tuesday.

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Abela's comments come after Times of Malta on Sunday revealed that hundreds of people were being investigated for fraudulently claiming monthly benefit payments averaging €450, with Silvio Grixti implicated as having allegedly provided false medical documents to back up the claims.

The racket, which continued to grow over the years, saw hundreds of people claim benefits for conditions they did not suffer from, with the ‘severe disability’ of choice understood to have been frequent epileptic fits.

While the number of false claims is yet to be determined, two sources close to the ongoing police investigations said the figure could reach around 800, with evidence seen by Times of Malta indicating that often the claimants hailed from Labour strongholds like Żabbar, Żejtun and Paola.

Some 141 people have so far been ordered to return a total of €2.1 million while hundreds of others are still being investigated.

On Tuesday Abela said the allegations about Grixti were "still allegations investigated by the police".

He said Castille immediately took action when it received reports of the allegations. The case was reported to the police and Grixti was asked to resign from his role as MP, Abela said.

"The case was revealed by Castille and reported to the police by Castille," he said.

"The report on Sunday was no new discovery. So much so that I took the political decision a long time ago on this case that led to the resignation of a PL MP," he said.

On whether people within Castille's customer care staff or OPM officials directed people to the fraudulent scheme Abela said he would not comment on individuals.

"I will not comment on the involvement, or lack of involvement, of individuals because there are ongoing investigations," he said.

Abela added that a system within the Social Policy Ministry designed to flag fraudulent claims caught several suspicious cases.

"Those cases were also referred to the police".

Reacting to the revelations earlier on Tuesday, the president of Malta’s medical association Martin Balzan on Tuesday branded the racket “organised crime”.

Meanwhile, rule-of-law NGO Repubblika said on Tuesday that political responsibility must be shouldered for the fraud, saying the Prime Minister cannot hide behind a judicial process to avoid being accountable.

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola later urged MPs elected from the second, third and fourth districts to declare they had nothing to do with the 'racket'.

And after the PN expressed concern that Abela had not yet said a word or taken any action about the racket, the government said the OPM had commented on the matter from before the article was published, replying to the journalist's questions.