The president of Malta’s medical association has branded the benefit fraud racket linked to ex-Labour MP Silvio Grixti as “organised crime”.
“The scale of this suggests it came from above... to me, this sounds like organised crime,” said Martin Balzan, who discovered that his signature has been forged on around six or seven documents.
“This is wrong. Cheating the system is wrong. That money is for people who are seriously disabled,” the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) president said on Monday.
On Sunday, Times of Malta revealed that hundreds of people were being investigated for fraudulently claiming monthly benefit payments averaging €450, with Grixti implicated as having allegedly provided false medical documents to back up the claims.
“Large numbers of my colleagues have been affected and it seems that seven or eight documents may have been forged at a time... certain things were blatant and it happened to a lot of specialists,” Balzan said.
Balzan is the lead respiratory physician at Mater Dei Hospital, a senior lecturer at the University of Malta and earlier this year was elected vice president of the main EU doctors’ lobby, the Standing Committee of European Doctors.
He said medical professionals were “very upset” their signatures had been forged, noting he was not treating any of the people whose falsified medical form his signature had appeared on.
“None of them were my patients and this seems to be the case for my colleagues,” he said, adding he was “very annoyed” his signature had been falisified.
“I’m very happy that the police investigated this. We need to go after the perpetrators and not just the beneficiaries,” Balzan said.
The racket, which continued to grow over the years, saw hundreds of people claim benefits for conditions they didn’t suffer from, with the ‘severe disability’ of choice understood to have been frequent epileptic fits.
While the number of false claims is yet to be determined, two sources close to the ongoing police investigations said the figure could reach around 800, with evidence seen by Times of Malta indicating that often the claimants hailed from Labour strongholds like Żabbar, Żejtun and Paola.
This is wrong. Cheating the system is wrong. That money is for people who are seriously disabled
Grixti is alleged to have provided claimants with an envelope containing forged medical documents certifying them as suffering from one of the eligible conditions. The documents appeared to have been signed by several Maltese consultants who, when contacted by police, said they had never even seen the patients in question, let alone signed off the documents.
The envelopes even included a false Transport Malta declaration saying the claimant had surrendered his or her driver’s licence, a requirement for people who suffer from frequent epileptic fits.
The claimants would then appear before a government medical board whose job it was to assess the validity of each claim. The claimants told police they were asked to hand over the envelope to the board during an interview that in some cases lasted just “five minutes”.
Some claimants told police they had been referred to Grixti from the Office of the Prime Minister’s customer care wing or from ministers’ aids.
At least one claimant said he was referred to Grixti by Minister Owen Bonnici, while two others said they were roped into the scheme by the late Labour MP Silvio Parnis.
Both the Office of the Prime Minister and Bonnici vehemently denied they ever referred anyone to participate in any fraudulent activity.
In May, Social Justice Minister Michael Falzon said that over the last decade around 10,900 people had been caught receiving social benefits that they were not entitled to.
“They are not only stealing money from the government, but they are also stealing from hard-working citizens who continuously contribute to our society.”