A lesson at a migrant center in Italy | Credit: ANSA
A lesson at a migrant center in Italy | Credit: ANSA

Italian authorities have charged 10 administrators and advisers at a migrant aid cooperative with theft. They are accused of stealing funds that were allocated for asylum seekers' services.

Italian finance police have conducted an investigation into the misappropriation of funds designated for migrant assistance. This led the prosecutor's office in the southern Italian town of Ragusa to issue indictments for 10 people accused of graft and conspiracy to launder money.

The accused allegedly used credit cards that had been issued to the migrant cooperative to pay for life insurance policies in their own names. They also bought a farm stay property. They are said to have created a shortfall of 1.6 million euros for the social cooperative "Il Dono," which is based in Ragusa. The organization has provided assistance for a decade to various migrant reception centers in the area. 

Public funds used for personal purposes 

The indictments, which were issued following a number of official complaints that were filed by the Italian finance police, involve former administrators and financial consultants. Investigators said the probe into the economic and financial management of the cooperative showed a complex scheme to steal public funds.

It is believed that successive administrators, who all belonged to the same family, falsified the company's books, used invoices for non-existent transactions and concealed the majority of accounting records. The services offered by the cooperative were part of conventions stipulated with various public entities providing services in Ragusa, including meals, clothing, literacy, and lodging. 

From 2005 to 2014 the cooperative received public funds amounting to more than six million euros. Judges said "the credited amounts were drained from the cash account, for personal use of various types." 

Asylum seekers' pocket money withheld 

The finance police also discovered withheld pocket money payments to asylum seekers and the undue recording of expenses that weren't actually sustained. The cooperative's administrators issued checks totaling more than 250,000 euros from the non-profit's bank account to two accountants who are also under investigation. The checks were issued not for consulting but for "managing illegal behavior aimed at graft". 

An analysis of bank statements, including the personal accounts of those under investigation, showed that cash deposits were made on various occasions for tens of thousands of euros, sometimes in cases where reported annual salaries totaled little more than 3,000 euros. The finance police said the deposited money "was also used to purchase property at auction worth 260,000 euros, which belonged to the cooperative administrators' parents, designated for use as a farm stay".

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