Fraudsters queue for relief cash

Efforts to keep red tape to a minimum for the disbursement of emergency relief payments to people stricken by the recent wildfires have resulted in 15 people being arrested yesterday and a further 60 detained on suspicion of lying to obtain the money. Police said that they arrested 15 Roma in the Peloponnesian towns of Pirgos and Amaliada. Five had already submitted a solemn declaration and obtained 3,000 euros in cash, plus an extra 1,000 euros each because they had four or more children. The other 10 were arrested before they could submit the one document needed to collect the money from the banks that are assisting in the aid disbursement program. Another 60 people were taken in for questioning as the police presence was strengthened at the banks amid complaints that hundreds of Roma were trying to collect payments for which they were not eligible. The cases of alleged fraud have been relatively few relative to the number of people receiving financial relief. Some 20,000 people have so far collected 72.4 million euros. However, Supreme Court Prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas sent a circular to the prosecutor’s offices in Patras, Nafplion and Kalamata yesterday recommending that they urgently investigate any allegations about fraudulent claims. Prosecutors are expected to ask banks to hand over copies of the declarations submitted by claimants so they can cross-check their validity. «Fellow citizens who behave in this manner are displaying disrespect toward the victims of the fires while also committing multiple crimes and seriously damaging the trust between the State and its citizens,» said Sanidas in his circular. Sanidas has instructed that anyone arrested on suspicion of submitting false information should be immediately placed in custody. The suspects will be charged with defrauding the state and making a false statement. Both offenses carry a maximum five-year jail sentence.