Italian police say that 25 people received large sums of money from the government to pay for migrant reception services – and then used the funds to pay for things like villa renovations and a birthday party.
The suspects reportedly used fraudulent invoices for services they claimed they provided to refugees -- but those refugees were no longer in the country. They allegedly used these funds to renovate a villa with a tennis court beside it and to pay for a birthday party for an 18-year-old.
A mayor in office in a town in the Isernia province and two former mayors are among the suspects.
Some three million euros worth of assets have been seized.
Extortion, fraud, abuse of office
The charges against the suspects include extortion, fraud, abuse of office and use of fraudulent invoices.
Police in Cassino, a town in south-central Italy, started investigating the case in 2016. Investigators found illicit activities involving both the Italian system for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees (SPRAR) and special reception centers (CAS). An official in the accounting office of the SPRAR service allegedly received contributions for non-existent expenses.
Representatives and partners of three cooperatives were also found to be involved, bringing to light an entire system based on illicit relations between the head of the accounting office of the SPRAR service and the heads of two cooperatives that have branches in the Frosinone, Caserta and Isernia provinces.
Contracts in exchange for hiring family, friends
Investigators also found that in some places, cooperatives got government contracts in "exchange" for hiring specific people.
One mayor allegedly managed to get his family members and friends hired as "compensation."
When another cooperative tried to compete with the corrupt cooperative, the mayor allegedly intervened. He reportedly got the owner of real estate where a migrant residence was to be been built to rescind a contract with explicit and implicit threats.