Three men from Limassol suspected of being involved in a scam which cheated the state of at least €35,000 over aid for homeless people, were remanded on Monday for four days.
The three, aged 56, 57 and 66, were arrested on Sunday, along with a 75-year-old man suspected of lying about being homeless. The 75-year-old’s case is being handled separately. He is being investigated for conspiring to commit a felony and extorting money under false pretences.
All four men, including the head of an organisation purportedly helping the homeless, were arrested on suspicion of defrauding the state of at least €35,000 over a period of more than a year.
The other two are the owner of a hotel, aged 57, and an employee aged 66.
The 46-year old head of the organisation to help the homeless was arrested after complaints by the Limassol welfare office, which suspected a fraud was being perpetrated. He, the hotel owner and the employee appeared in court on Monday where they were remanded for four days.
The case was reported to the police last August.
The suspected offences were carried out between August 2018 and October 12, 2019, Limassol police spokesman Ioannis Soteriades told CNA on Sunday.
“The case is very serious. The state has been deceived,” he said. “On the basis of the information police have so far, the amount of money the state has paid is €35,000 but it may be much higher since investigations are still in the early stages.”
The court on Monday heard that a social welfare official had been trying for three months to locate a homeless person at the hotel in question but were told every time by the employee there that the man was not there at that moment.
A homeless person also reported he was pressured to stay at the hotel even though he did not want to, and that the owner and employee were asking him to present at the hotel at least once per day.
Currently 27 persons stay at the hotel with the labour ministry’s permission.
Soteriades said the complaint was made by the Limassol welfare office, which gives out cash so that homeless people can stay at certain hotels and be fed.
“Since taking statements we came to a safe conclusion about this case and we are investigating criminal offences, in particular, conspiracy to commit a felony, seizure and attempt to seize property under false representations, and fraud,” he added.
It is believed the suspects would go out and find homeless people and take them to the hotel and then allegedly ‘cook the books’ to make it look as if the homeless people were staying longer than they were to gain more funding.
Soteriades said in some instances welfare officials accepted assurances from the hotel management that the beneficiaries were indeed staying there even though during visits and inspections by the office, many of the homeless people being claimed for, were not found on the premises.
He said police were working closely with the labour ministry on the case and were not ruling out that more suspects might be involved.
In the case of the 75-year-old, according to information collected by the police, he seems to have been urged by the owner of the organisation to say in a video that was posted on social media that he was living in a cage. Following however a probe by the social welfare service, it emerged the man was not homeless and was staying in a proper home.