Prosecutors in the province of Macerata, in the central Marche region, are pursuing charges against 120 property owners accused of falsifying their benefit claims, many of whom said they had been left homeless by the earthquake damage when in fact the property concerned was a holiday home or accommodation they bought to let.
Some owners didn't even live in the Marche at the time of the earthquake but had primary residences elsewhere in Italy or abroad, investigators said this week. Others inflated their claims by listing family members who in fact lived separately, while some claimed to have been forced to seek alternative accommodation while continuing to live in their own property.
One opportunist even rented out the emergency accommodation they were provided by the state, according to La Repubblica.
Police have already seized more than €120,000 allocated to the supposed victims, while the total extent of the fraud is estimated at more than €500,000.
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After the 6.0-magnitude earthquake razed villages across central Italy on August 23rd, 2016, the Italian state made emergency funds available to support people in the worst-hit "red zones". Those who own a primary residence there – not a second home or rental property – can claim a maximum of €900 a month, depending on how many people live in it.
While authorities attempted to streamline the process by allowing claimants to "self-certify" the extent of the damage, the lack of verification left the system vulnerable to abuse. Subsequent checks revealed anomalies and led Italy's financial crimes unit to scrutinize the claims.
While unscrupulous owners were taking advantage, thousands of genuine victims across the Marche, Abruzzo, Umbria and Lazio regions remain in temporary shelter, their homes uninhabitable and surrounded by the ruins of flattened villages that have yet to be cleared. Many have complained about the slow pace of reconstruction, saying that bureaucratic hurdles keep them from accessing the funds they need to rebuild.
The government estimates the financial damage of the 6.0-magnitude earthquake, which killed 299 people, at €23 billion. It says it will take at least a decade to rebuild the many remote communities damaged.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP