Benefits fraud scandal: Abela insists no OPM officials, Labour MPs ‘directed anyone to do anything illegal’

Robert Abela says 160 people have been charged by police on social benefits fraud as investigation into scandal involving former Labour MP Silvio Grixti continues

Prime Minister Robert Abela (File photo)
Prime Minister Robert Abela (File photo)

Robert Abela insists no officials at the Office of the Prime Minister were involved in the social benefits scandal when speaking to reporters on Thursday.

The Prime Minister reiterated that “no present or past official” within the OPM “directed anyone to do anything illegal”.

Abela added that he had asked members of his parliamentary group about claims of involvement in the scandal and was told none of them “directed anyone to do illegal things”.

The Prime Minister was commenting on the scandal involving fraudulent claims for severe disability payments at the centre of which was former Labour MP Silvio Grixti.

Grixti resigned from parliament in December 2021 when information emerged that he was interrogated by the police as part of an investigation into social benefit fraud. Grixti allegedly provided patients with falsified medical documents with which they could seek benefits they were not due.

However, last week, Times of Malta lifted the lid on the extent of the scheme and how it operated. The information is understood to have come from several individuals who have since been charged in court for benefit fraud.

The report also claimed that some individuals had been directed to seek Grixti out for help by customer care officials in some ministries and canvassers of some ministers.

On Thursday, Abela defended his actions and said that until now some 160 people had been arraigned on charges of receiving severe disability payments they were not entitled to.

The Prime Minister said that it was his office that flagged the case to the police when it became aware of possible fraud towards the end of 2021.

“When the investigation indicated that a Labour MP could have been involved, I took immediate action to ask for Silvio Grixti’s resignation without prejudicing the ongoing police investigation that led to several arraignments,” Abela said. “It was important for me that any wrongdoing comes to light and justice is served.”

Last week, the Social Policy Ministry said that some €2.1 million in benefits linked to 140 cases are in the process of being recovered, following a police investigation into the racket.

Government later on set up and administrative inquiry to delve into the processes by which applications for the severe disability benefit are assessed and validated.

On Sunday, when interviewed in Marsaxlokk, Abela vowed that the "big fish" in this scandal - he did not mention Grixti by name - should not expected preferential treatment. He also said abuse will not be tolerated, and no one will be allowed to capitalise on individuals’ vulnerability.

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