Screengrab of a video part of a Milan state police investigation that led to the arrest of five people and the putting under investigation of 78. July 3, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/UFFICIO STAMPA POLIZIA
Screengrab of a video part of a Milan state police investigation that led to the arrest of five people and the putting under investigation of 78. July 3, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/UFFICIO STAMPA POLIZIA

A lucrative racket involving fake marriages and falsified exams of Italian language to aid clandestine immigration have been discovered by Milan police. Five people were arrested and 78 were placed under investigation on July 3.

"Listen closely: do not copy from the person next to you because there is a mistake on every page. Ok? You don't speak any Italian at all?" The answer came in the form of complete silence in the class of about 30 Chinese students that had gathered that day to take an exam of the Italian language, a requirement for a stay permit in Italy. Asking the question was 56-year-old Fiorella C., head of the Athena Centro Studi school in Milan. 

Fiorella C. has been arrested alongside her husband and three others as part of an investigation into fake marriages between Italians and non-EU citizens, falsified family reunification procedures and falsified language tests for stay permits in Italy. Some 78 people have been placed under investigation in relation to the illegal activities. 

500 euros to pass Italian language test 

The warrant states that specific fees had been established: 500 euros to pass the Italian language test, 300 for reunification procedures. The language tests were held in the school run by Fiorella C. alongside her husband, Nicola B., 63, who was also arrested alongside 3 intermediaries, a Moroccan national and two Egyptians. 

The candidates were given tests with the correct answers already filled in and with a different mistake for each in order to avoid raising suspicion. The only way they would not pass, paradoxically, was if they decided to copy from their neighbouring test-takers.

Fiorella C. explained this clearly to the classroom but then asked an interpreter for help when she realised they did not understand. In the meantime, as the footage from a hidden videocamera shows, the intermediaries collected the cash from the desks. 

The illegal activities were lucrative, police flying squad chief Marco Calì said, adding that "every two months they had exam sessions with 270 people, who paid 500 euros each to pass the test. There were also sessions in which the tests were taken without pre-filled exams in order to prevent having a 100% pass rate. During the searches we confiscated 20,000 euros in cash from the couple."

Inquiry began after woman reported threats 

The three intermediaries arrested had found foreign "clients" through offices offering assistance in filing tax documents. "Do you know Italian?", one of the suspects is heard in a wiretap asking an Egyptian woman. She then explained the fees to pass the exam: "It costs 500 euros. If you instead want to study, then you can do the normal one. You pay 50 euros and then you go to take the exam."

In another wiretap, the same suspect explained that it isn't a problem to change the tax statement filed by the candidate in order to reach the required level to be eligible for family reunification. ''For that, the price was 300 euros,'' said Vittorio La Torre, head of the second section of the flying square that conducted the investigation. 

The inquiry began in late 2018 after a 34-year-old Italian woman reported the matter to the police after being offered 2,500 euros to marry a North African man. She said that she was threatened with a gun to her head after she refused. ''From October 2016 until July or August 2017,'' she told the police, ''I lived with my mother and with my fake husband. The man who threatened me was later the witness to the marriage at the town hall.''

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