A protest by migrants from the Cona center (archival picture) | Photo: ANSA/VALERIO MEROLA
A protest by migrants from the Cona center (archival picture) | Photo: ANSA/VALERIO MEROLA

Three prefects and four state employees have been indicted by prosecutor's office of Venice, Italy. They are accused of fraud and having warned the management of a local reception center ahead of inspection visits.

The migrant reception centre in Cona, in the province of Venice, northern Italy, held up to 1,500 migrants and was shut down on December 20, 2018. The center, on a former military base, was managed by the cooperative Edeco.

On October 9, prosecutors Lucia D'Alessandro and Federica Baccaglini indicted three former Venice prefects: Domenico Cuttaia, Carlo Boffi, and Vito Cusumano, the latter of whom also served as government commissioner in Bolzano. According to the charges, the three men announced upcoming inspections to the management cooperative so that it could take precautions to avoid complaints. 

Charged with violating professional secrecy 

Investigators said the prefecture allegedly called the management cooperative directly to give them advance warning about upcoming inspections, regardless of whether they were by the provincial authorities, the local health agency USL, or even, in one case, a worker with the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR.  For this, the three former prefects are charged with violating professional secrecy.

Cuttaia, Boffu and Cusumano have also been charged with fraud.

Also accused of fraud are four Venetian government workers. They allegedly allowed Edeco workers to not respect the terms of their management contract.

Fewer supplies and workers than they were paid for

The four former directors of the cooperative -- Simone Borile, Sara Felpati, Gaetano Battocchio, and Annalisa Carraro -- are also set to appear before the preliminary investigative judge. They are accused of fraud. They allegedly bought fewer supplies and employed fewer staff members than required by the terms of their contract with the government. 

According to investigators,  Edeco staff were not only tipped off whenenever an inspection was coming; an inspection report that was sent to the parliamentary investigative committee on migrant reception was also allegedly falsified. 

Many problems at the Cona center

The lack of supplies and staff reportedly caused many problems at the Cona migrant reception hub.

Over the past few years, the center on a former military base not only saw investigations, but also uprisings and protest marches. The most delicate moment came in January 2017, when a 25-year-old Ivorian woman, Sandrine Bakayoko, died of natural causes after she had a pulmonary thrombosis in the shower. Her death caused tension in the center to rise, leading to hunger strikes and riots, which were brought under control only following a heavy deployment of law enforcement. 

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