The Limassol court on Monday ruled that three suspects involved in an alleged homeless scam be held in custody for another four days in order to gather more evidence in a case that appears to have cost the state at least €200,000.
In a marathon session that lasted from the morning until 4pm, a 57-year-old hotel owner and 66-year-old employee appeared in court.
The third suspect is a 46-year-old man who headed up an organisation to help the homeless, and who was hospitalised in Limassol last Friday where he is slated to undergo catheterisation. The remand hearing for 46-year-old, who police believe was the ‘recruiter’, was held in the hospital. He would allegedly try and persuade homeless people to ask to stay at the hotel, and badger welfare officials to use the premises even though there were cheaper options.
The three were arrested on October 13 on suspicion of extorting money under false pretences by charging the state at least €200,000 over the period August 2018 to July 2019 for use of the hotel to house homeless people. They had also sent new invoices totalling over €170,000 to cover the months since. However, many of the people the hotel claimed money for were not staying there, police have said.
Earlier on Monday, Limassol police spokesman Ioannis Soteriades said around 45 homeless people were listed to testify in the case but added that finding them all might be difficult.
“However, we are putting in a lot of effort. We have identified enough of them and we hope we can locate them all in order to get statements to complete the investigation,” he said.
Reports last week suggested that even though the welfare department did go and check at the hotel, on many occasions people listed as staying there could not be located during inspections. This had raised some suspicions at the Limassol welfare office.
Soteriades also said police had obtained court orders to examine the suspects’ financial records. Also, he did not rule out further arrests.
One of the incidences being looked at 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 even though they didn’t have to. 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 also charging the state for her second daughter who never stayed there. In another instance an invoice was sent for another woman and her two children, even though the children were abroad on holiday with their father, and lived with him in Cyprus.