Blind man's bluff: Italian police catch 'visually-impaired' fraudster on scooter

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By Euronews  with AFP, ANSA
The man was observed riding a scooter and looking into shop windows.
The man was observed riding a scooter and looking into shop windows.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File

An Italian man, who allegedly claimed he was blind to receive years of financial benefits, has been caught riding a scooter.

Police said they had arrested a 40-year-old suspect in the Sicilian city of Palermo on charges of aggravated fraud.

The man is accused of receiving more than €170,000 in state aid since 2008 after claiming to be "totally blind" due to a congenital condition.

Italian financial police were first alerted after the man renewed his driving license in 2018 despite his supposed visual impairment.

Local media report that the alleged fraudster was caught while driving and simultaneously sending a message on his mobile phone.

He was also observed gazing into shop windows and teaching his daughter to ride a bike, according to reports.

Although he owned a garage, the suspect was also receiving the monthly "basic income" paid in Italy to the poorest citizens.

The man was known to police and had allegedly been part of a criminal network that staged traffic accidents to collect insurance money. He had been sentenced to nearly 15 years in prison for the scam in 2020 but has appealed the sentence.

The 40-year-old Palermo resident has been dubbed "Berlusconi" by some Italian tabloids -- a reference to Italy's former prime minister who has been embroiled in years of court cases.

Police said they had also seized a number of vehicles and a warehouse as part of the operation.