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Welfare paid out €200,000 in homeless hotel scam, court hears   

Limassol Criminal Court

Three Limassol men suspected of defrauding the state over aid for homeless people were rearrested on Friday after their remands expired, with police saying they may have cheated the state of as much as €200,000, more than five times the initial estimate.

Two of the men, a 57-year-old hotel owner that hosts homeless people and the hotel’s 66-year-old employee were taken in court on Friday. The third suspect, the head of an organisation purportedly helping the homeless, 46, is at the Limassol hospital as doctors said he might need catheterisation.

They were arrested last Sunday and are being investigated among other things for conspiring to commit a felony and extorting money under false pretences after a social welfare worker reported to the police possible foul play following several unsuccessful attempts to visit homeless people who were purportedly staying at the hotel owned by the 57-year-old who was being paid by the government to host them.

They were initially thought to have defrauded the state of at around €35,000 over a period of more than a year but police on Friday said they were now looking at an amount of €200,000.

Police spokesman Christos Andreou said that the labour ministry paid the hotel €200,000 between August 2018 and July 2019 while the hotel also submitted invoices to the tune of €150,000 for the last two months.

“It seems that between November 2018 and October 2019 they had received several sums for providing food and board to homeless people while the persons mentioned in the applications filed to the labour ministry were not staying there for the period of time for which the money was paid,” Andreou said.

The three suspects’ four-day remands expired on Thursday and were re-arrested until Monday when the Limassol district court said it would decide on the police request for extension of their remands since now they are also being investigated for conspiracy to commit felony, forgery, human trafficking and money laundering.

The investigated offences concern the period between August 2018 and October 2019.

The court heard on Friday that following investigations, police discovered several cases concerning homeless persons for which the state was paying the hotel for food and board but who were not staying there.

One case concerned a person who was approached by the 46-year-old who asked him to find him two homeless persons who would agree to say they were staying at the hotel in question without them ever having to stay there. In exchange the 46-year-old promised to have the man’s application for the Guaranteed Minimum Income approved.

A woman also told police that she was staying at the hotel with one of her daughters
but it later emerged that the hotel was charging the state also for the stay of the woman’s second daughter who was not staying there.

It also emerged that the hotel was charging the state €165 per day for food and board for a woman and her two children between July and September despite the fact the children were actually on holiday abroad with their father and when they returned they were mostly staying at their father’s house.

The court also heard that the 46-year-old was pressuring social welfare workers to place homeless people at the hotel despite the fact there were cheaper choices, while he was also trying to convince the homeless to ask to stay there.

One of the homeless women, after her testimony to the police, was recognised as victim of human trafficking as she is was listed among the vulnerable population groups.

Police said they had to take 53 more statements and carry out more investigations on the case and for that reason they asked the suspects’ remands for another eight days.

Due to the fact it was late, the court said it would announce its decision on Monday while the suspects were to remain in custody until then.

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