Research body accused of fraud

April 5, 2002

Italy's best-known independent social, economic and political research institute, Eurispes, is embroiled in accusations that it embezzled more than L4 million (£2.5 million) by running bogus training programmes in the late 1990s.

Its president, a prominent sociologist, and its administrative director have been arrested and a further 36 people, including at least one academic, are under investigation.

Eurispes was founded in 1982 as a non-profit research institute. It has since flourished and has been active in working for both private and state sectors. The presentation of its annual report has become an important media event and its frequent "photographs" of specific aspects of Italian society are widely reported. It boasts an impressive list of prominent politicians and academics among its officials and consultants.

Its president, who was granted house arrest, is Giovanni Maria Fara, professor of sociology at Rome's La Sapienza University, a consultant to the Vatican and lecturer on a degree programme for police officers.

Professor Fara is also on the board of directors of LinkCampus, the Roman offshoot of the University of Malta.

According to the prosecutor's office, during 1998 and 1999 Eurispes pocketed more than e4 million out of the e9 million paid by the region of Puglia, in southern Italy, for courses that were supposed to turn out people to teach in vocational training programmes. Much of the money came from European Union resources. Europol and the EU's own anti-fraud office, the OLAF, worked on the long-running investigation.

Eurispes allegedly "milked" the money by paying very impressive fees to people, including several spouses of Eurispes officials, as tutors, consultants and teachers, for work that they never did.

Investigators believe Eurispes paid for services that were monstrously overpriced or were never supplied.

In one case, Eurispes allegedly leased 200 computers for several times what the computers would have cost to buy outright, then received part of the money back from the supplier.

"The investigation has ascertained very precisely that taxpayers' money was squandered," one of the prosecutors said.

"We have as evidence an enormous mass of bank documents and bills."

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