A neurologist has said he and other consultants felt “raped” when they found out their signatures had been forged on false medical documents in the huge benefits fraud racket exposed by Times of Malta.
Anthony Galea Debono also said not enough was being done to pin down the people “higher up” involved in the racket.
All neurologists and neurosurgeons registered in Malta were affected by the abuse and felt “cheated”, he added.
The angry senior neurologist was among several consultants who learned that dozens of people had received thousands of euros in disability benefits they were not entitled to, by means of the doctors’ forged signatures.
His rubberstamp and signature are on the forged documents of at least 30 people who were receiving the benefit fraudulently.
Four claim epilepsy...and work as taxi drivers
He has learned that four of these people – who are understood to have claimed they suffered from epilepsy – are working as taxi drivers, and he questioned how they kept their driving licence while claiming to be suffering from such a severe disability.
“I am now at a point where nothing really makes me angry anymore in this country. But I am incensed that they used my forged signature,” Galea Debono said.
He said he was treated very courteously by police but hopes the investigation looks “higher up” where it should be looking.
Earlier this month, Times of Malta revealed that in a years-long racket, people often hailing from Labour strongholds received around €450 monthly, collectively defrauding millions in taxpayer money.
Only people who have specific, rare, severe disabilities are eligible for the benefit, and in some cases they need to provide medical certificates from a consultant, to confirm they do suffer from the illness.
Those certificates must then be presented to a medical board that is meant to assess each application before giving the green light for the benefit to be issued.
Investigators believe this is why Galea Debono and other consultants had their signatures forged – because the documents were essential to make the fraudulent applicants seem eligible.
An association representing epilepsy patients in Malta has said its members are "infuriated" by the racket, which it said undermines genuine patients and adds to stigma surrounding benefits for severe disability.
Galea Debono said the police provided him with a copy of the documents that were forged in his name. The documents appear to confirm he had examined the claimants and certified that they suffered from a medical condition that made them eligible for the benefit – except that he had never seen the people in his life, and as far as he was concerned, they suffered from no such condition.
He said documents in his name were almost invariably identical for all 30 patients – “literal photocopies”.
They were illegible, had a rubberstamp he had not used in around six years, the text was riddled with grammatical errors and did not make medical sense.
This led him to question how the doctors on the medical board assessing the applications had not smelt a rat when they came across a series of “such nonsense”.
“How is it possible that none of them noticed they were presented with 30 identical photocopies of certificates?” he asked.
“It was sheer incompetence. One wonders whether they were really medically qualified.”
Galea Debono has, in the past, drafted the Social Security Department’s requirements for epileptics to be able to access benefits.
He said they would need to have more than four seizures a month to qualify, which would indicate they were “quite disabled” and living a disrupted life.
He believes the claimants who were receiving the money fraudulently are “as guilty as those who forged the documents” and that “they should be given a community service sentence and made to clean hospitals”, rather than a suspended sentence.
The majority of those arraigned in court have admitted to the charges and agreed to return their ill-gotten gains, getting off with a suspended sentence for defrauding the government.
Some have already returned all the money but most of them have been reaching repayment agreements with the Social Security Department to return the amounts in monthly instalments.
Galea Debono explained how relatively few people in Malta are eligible for the severe disability assistance because the eligible illnesses are very rare. Some illnesses, like the Congenital Insensitivity to Pain and Leopard’s Syndrome, are so rare that “you can count the number of people who suffer from them on one hand”, he said.
“This means there are many people who have other severe disabilities and who deserve such a benefit but cannot apply for it, and that is very sad indeed,” he said.
“Persons with an illness and in dire straits should find appropriate assistance from the Department of Social Security and not fake signatures to help them out.”
Action needed by the Medical Council
He believes the names of the board’s doctors should be made public and action taken against those who are found to have approved a spate of identical false documents.
The Medical Council, he said, was duty bound to take action and could even strike involved doctors off the register.
Times of Malta revealed that claimants told police investigators that family doctor and former Labour MP Silvio Grixti had provided them with the forged documents.
But sources said the racket became so well-known within Labour circles that it took a life of its own, with some claimants telling police they obtained the forged certificates from people other than Grixti.
Following the revelations, the Social Policy Ministry confirmed that 141 people have been ordered to refund €2.1 million in fraudulent benefits, and that €330,000 have already been recouped.
But that figure is expected to climb even higher as police continue to comb through all 761 applications that were awarded the benefit between 2019 and 2022.
Dozens of claimants who benefitted from the racket have already been charged and more people are expected to be arraigned in the coming weeks. Investigators are not excluding the possibility that the racket began before 2019.