Palermo police also investigating 33 people over cases including feigned paralysis and blindness
Tue 14 Jan 2020 09.48 EST
Last modified on Tue 14 Jan 2020 14.53 EST
Police in Sicily have arrested two men and placed 33 people under investigation over a large-scale disability fraud.
Investigators in Palermo identified at least 12 cases of so-called falsi invalidi (“false invalids”), including a man who allegedly for years received a disability pension for his feigned paralysis.
According to the Palermo district attorneys who led the investigation, the two men who were arrested had established a network of physicians and welfare officials who, in exchange for substantial sums of money, falsified medical certificates, declaring that their patients suffered from grave disabilities such as blindness or paralysis, which were entirely fabricated.
Investigators uncovered the alleged fraud using hidden cameras and wiretaps. A woman who for years had been receiving a disability pension for blindness was allegedly filmed each morning as she read the post outside her home.
According to investigators, the price to obtain a false certification was equivalent to the first 12 months of the disability pension.
District attorneys have also placed under investigation officials employed at INPS, Italy’s public and largest social security welfare institute, who have been implicated in the false certification fraud in exchange for payment.
Those arrested have yet to make any statements in response.
Disability fraud is a widespread problem in Italy, especially in Sicily and the country’s southern regions.
Every year investigators uncover thousands of falsi invalidi costing the state millions of euros.
In April 2019, the police arrested an Italian man after he allegedly falsely claimed €137,000 (£117,000) in benefits over 10 years by pretending to be paraplegic. He was even granted an audience with the pope in 2015. Police said his scam started in 2007 when he staged a road accident with an accomplice.
According to police, in order to simulate deterioration in his leg muscles, the man used to inject himself with lidocaine — an anaesthetic used to numb tissue in a specific area. He was arrested when he returned to Florence airport after a holiday in Togo, where police footage showed him walking off the plane. He is pleading not guilty.
In 2018, a Naples man was convicted after he accumulated more than €100,000 in state payments for a rare form of blindness. His feigned eye disease was uncovered when he was filmed while driving a scooter.