The waiting area in the Milan criminal court | Photo: ANSA/Stefano Porta
The waiting area in the Milan criminal court | Photo: ANSA/Stefano Porta

A Milan court has convicted 10 members of an organization running a "system" that forged documents in order to gain management rights of reception facilities for hundreds of migrants. A woman was sentenced to 11 years in prison, the highest jail term handed down in the trial.

A Milan court on June 23 sentenced Daniela Giaconi to 11 years in jail for "de facto" managing a fraudulent "system" with the aim of making money from managing the reception of hundreds of migrants in Italy.

Nearly €9 million were seized authorities when Giaconi was arrested on July 2, 2019. More than half of those funds were later discovered to have been used solely for personal purposes by the defendants.

Meanwhile, the migrants entrusted into the care of the NGOs were given very little to get by. The court said that the defendant's only interest was to "make a profit" out of the migrant emergency. The funding provided to the four NGOs should have financed services for migrants including food, housing, linguistic and cultural mediation as well as legal protection.

Faking NGOs for personal profit

Giaconi stood accused of multiples charges including money laundering, fraud against the State and criminal association for running four separate organizations that had been incorporated as NGOs to make a hefty profit for herself and her associates.

The four fake NGOs involved were Volontari senza frontiere, Milano Solidale, Amici di Madre Teresa Giuliani and Area Solidale -- based in Milan, Lodi and Pavia.

Giaconi was handed the highest of the prison terms for leading the scheme. In addition to 11 years in prison, she will be placed under probation for three years as a security measure once her term ends.

The court also sentenced nine others to terms of up to eight years and six months in prison as part of the same case. Among the defendants, Letizia Barreca was sentenced to seven years in prison and Sandra Ariota to eight years and three months.

Read more: Clandestine migration ring dismantled in northern Italy

Abusing government fund for the most vulnerable

Giaconi and the other defendants went on trial after a probe had been carried out in Lodi, unveiling a "criminal scenario" at the expense of asylum seekers, investigators said, after procedures to control government tenders became stricter in 2017.

Giaconi and her co-defendants allegedly used the government funds between 2014 and 2018 -- at the height of the so-called refugee crisis, which hit Italy particularly hard.

The interior ministry, which acted as a plaintiff in the trial, obtained provisional compensation for only €200,000 euros but the judges also ordered the seizure of assets and properties obtained under the fraudulent scheme worth nearly €9 million.

Read more: Convictions for facilitating undocumented migrants in Italy

Proven ties to mafia

The alleged fraudsters were also reported to have been involved in further criminal activities. They also guaranteed "economic support" to people who had been convicted for having any kind of association with the mafia.

This included "a salary without doing any work" scheme; in Italy, former mobsters can request alternative detention measures such as a mild form of house arrest if they can prove that they are working.

This scheme would have served the purpose of faking jobs for former mafiosis to pretend to get them reintegrated into society.

Read more: Fears of mafia exploitation as Italy opens labor market to farm workers


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