Fake invalids at heart of Italy's postal scandal

Italy's postal system, far from being a thrusting modern communications industry, is being run by an army of invalids, if evidence unearthed by a Roman investigating magistrate is to be believed.

Everyone knows the Italian postal system is awful; the magistrate's report seems to explain why. But, as always in Italy, the reality is more elusive. The core of the problem, it appears, is not that the system is operated by the disabled; but that most of the disabled are fit as fiddles.

The postal service employs 17,000 invalids, all of them with medical certificates to prove how handicapped they are. Far from railing against what is arguably the worst public service in Europe, it seems that our hearts ought to be filled with compassion.

That lithe young woman scowling at her newspaper instead of attending to the long line of customers in front of her may not look unwell, but she has in fact got Parkinson's disease. Don't be hard on the man who sadistically orders you to pull all the staples out of your padded envelope before he will accept it for posting; he has a painful curvature of the spine. And go easy on the postmen who take a week to carry letters across town, or several months to send them out of the country. Many should be in wheelchairs, and they carry out their task only out of a strong sense of civic duty.

That's the official version of events. The investigating magistrate, Giorgio Castellucci, has his doubts, particularly since he discovered that one "handicapped" postal worker plays football on his afternoons off, that another has a second job as a gym teacher and that a third is an aspiring fashion model whose severe mobility problem disappears on the catwalk.

Welcome to invalidopoli, the latest scandal to erupt in this scandal- prone country. It has never been a secret that fake invalidity certificates were a dime a dozen in Italy - about one in two is false - but never before has anything this systematic been uncovered.

According to Mr Castellucci, the post office scam costs the state billions of lire in fraudulent invalidity benefits, as well as doing a disservice to the genuinely disabled, who are being squeezed out of badly needed jobs.

He has indicted 90 people, including doctors, health officials and post office managers, as well as the fake invalids themselves. He expects the final number of people sent for trial to exceed 2,500.

The scam dates back to the late 1980s, when the Post and Telecommunications Ministry was in the hands of the small, now defunct, Social Democrat party. According to the prosecution, the then post office minister, Carlo Vizzini, and his friends, handed out jobs to the sons and daughters of influential associates like sandwiches at a party, using a quota on employment of the disabled as a way of sneaking them through the back door.

In one Sicilian village, Militello Rosmarino, where the Social Democrats were keen to gather votes, about 500 of the 1,500-strong population were at one point registered as disabled. Many were inscribed illegally on the local electoral roll - registered as living at the then mayor's house - even though they worked in post offices in other parts of Sicily.

Whole families lived off the salaries and pensions from the scam, and returned the favour by propping up the Social Democrats' small share of the Italian vote.

Militello Rosmarino was cleaned up three years ago, following an investigation by the Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana, a publication memorably denounced as "pornographic" by the head of the local health authority, who is now in jail. The disabled population has since fallen to fewer than 20.

The rest of Italy is only now waking up to the scale of the scandal. Since Mr Castellucci launched his investigation a few weeks ago, one post office building in Rome which contains personnel records has mysteriously caught fire, while documents on disability registration at a major public health centre in the capital have vanished into thin air. The number of people turning up at public offices to claim disability benefit has suddenly dropped by several thousand.

The post office scandal gives and insight into what happens when an essential public service is used for years as a pork-barrel for nepotism. The post arrives hopelessly late or not at all. Service is surly and inefficient. Bloated staffing levels have blown a huge hole in the already debt-ridden national finances.

The new mayor of Militello Rosmarino, Nuccio Carrara, estimates that 55,000 of the post office's 200,000-odd salaried positions need to be cut. He believes the judiciary may have been deliberately tipped off about the invalidity scandal by post office managers, keen to axe jobs without offending the powerful public sector unions.

The most serious losers, whatever happens, will be the country's real disabled, who have always suffered in silence in a country which considers them a source of shame and mostly keeps them hidden behind closed doors.

About 10,000 are looking for work in Rome alone. Every six months, the state assigns 600 of them to subsidised private sector jobs, but 90 per cent are immediately rejected. In the last year, the state administration has taken on only 35 genuinely disabled people - compared with the thousands registered as handicapped who are in fact perfectly fit.

Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game