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UĦM to ask auditor to probe benefit fraud racket

Malta's second largest trade union, UĦM Voice of the Workers, will be asking the auditor general to probe the benefit fraud racket revealed by Times of Malta last Sunday.

Chief executive Josef Vella said when contacted that the union will be asking for a full-scale investigation “in the national interest”.

“We need to investigate this because, apart from the fraudulent use of taxpayers’ money, we need to find the big fish rather than the small fry. We need this probe to determine how many people benefitted from this scheme, who was the mastermind and what was the motive,” he said.

Asked whether he believed it could have been a vote-buying racket, Vella said it could very well have been but only a proper investigation could confirm it. He insisted that the benefit fraud racket was “a clear threat to the democracy of our country” and needed an investigation.

Times of Malta revealed that hundreds of people were being investigated for fraudulently claiming monthly benefit payments averaging €450, with former Labour MP Silvio Grixti implicated as having allegedly provided false medical documents to back up the claims.

We need to investigate this because, apart from the fraudulent use of taxpayers’ money, we need to find the big fish rather than the small fry- Josef Vella

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 the claimants often 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. 

Earlier this week, the president of Malta’s medical association branded the benefit fraud racket as “organised crime”.

“The scale of this suggests it came from above... to me, this sounds like organised crime,” said Martin Balzan, who discovered that his signature has been forged on around six or seven documents.

“This is wrong. Cheating the system is wrong. That money is for people who are seriously disabled,” the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) president said.

Prime Minister Robert Abela played down the racket on Tuesday, saying that no sitting MP was involved.

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